Food has always played a significant role in Chef Simone Tong's life. As a teenager, she worked in her mother's restaurant in Chengdu, China as an English-Chinese translator for a French chef. It was the first time that she realized the chef's passion and loving toil for each dish, the kitchen's vigor and the diner's delight.
When she later attended college at UNC-Chapel Hill, she realized how much she missed Chinese food, which prompted her to start cooking and hosting dinner parties for groups of friends and professors. However, it wasn't until she watched an episode of "After Hours with Daniel" featuring chef Wylie Dufresne that she realized that cooking did not have to be just her hobby — it could be her entire career.
She took the leap and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education, after which she knew that the motivation behind her work was to one day open her own restaurant. She was determined to learn as much as she possibly could from the best in the business so that she could offer a holistic dining experience. The act of cooking is just one small aspect of a restaurant. It requires so much more to make it whole — hospitality, beverage, music, ambiance.
Little Tong opened in Manhattan's East Village in 2017 to much critical acclaim for its unique noodle-based comfort dishes. But Tong's favorite thing to cook is a little different — "I love making Chinese fried eggs, or He Bao Dan ???. They get fried such that there's a crispy egg white skirt with a runny yolk, and they're typically dressed with soy sauce. It's a specialty of every Chinese mother and an easy, 60-second way to dress up any dish."
Because Little Tong has had so much success on the East Side, there's a new outpost at The Deco, a food hall opening in the Garment District. And, later this fall, Tong's team is opening a new restaurant in the West Village at 20 Cornelia Street called Silver Apricot.
But beyond noodles, what Tong's team seeks to evoke from their eateries is a sense of comfort with Chinese-American cuisine, stating, "It is through Silver Apricot that we will be able to show, rather than tell, New Yorkers and visitors alike what it means to us to be Chinese-American today. We will bring to life the Chinese-American identity and culture by building on time-honored techniques, driven by local products available to us in the Tri-State area. For everyone who has ever embarked on a journey in search of identity, we want Silver Apricot to evoke a sense of belonging through food, beverage, and hospitality."
So, it seems that Tong has more than noodles to come — and that we should stay hungry in anticipation of this next culinary adventure.
Silver Apricot restaurant opening date: Fall 2019
This piece was adapted from an interview with the chef.