Will Leung-Richardson honors his Cantonese family and his Southern roots
Like a lot of children of the 1980s, Will Leung-Richardson spent a lot of his after-school hours having a snack in front of the TV, learning about the world from “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” and “Reading Rainbow.”
But his TV wasn’t in a carpeted living room, it was in the back of a bustling Chinese restaurant.
“I was pretty much raised in my Cantonese grandparents’ restaurant,” Leung-Richardson said. “They worked all day, seven days a week.”
Some of the chef’s earliest memories are of that Chesterfield County restaurant’s kitchen, where he was often found standing on a milk crate, working the wok when he was 7 years old.
“I asked my grandma to teach me how to make something,” he said. “So, she taught me how to make egg drop soup. I remember being surprised that it was so easy to make something so good.”
As he grew, although his family encouraged him to go into a less labor-intensive field, Leung-Richardson couldn’t ignore the pull he felt to make culinary arts his career.
“I started off wanting to cook anything but Asian,” he said. “I learned a lot of classical French cooking and some Spanish techniques.”
After focusing on New American Southern cuisine, it wasn’t long before the flavors of his upbringing came back around. Today, he owns a popular Richmond-area food truck that blends the two. He named it Kudzu RVA, after the lush perennial Chinese vine that lines the highways of the American South.
“We’re a little bit Asian, a little bit Southern, and it’s hard to make us go away,” he said with a laugh.
His interest in Southern cooking goes deeper than his tastebuds; it represents half of his DNA. While his mother’s side of the family immigrated from China, his father’s side trace its lineage back to the earliest English settlers in Virginia. It’s a connection that inspired Leung-Richardson’s interest in history, one that he now combines with his food fascination.
“I went to school to be a historian,” he said. “I didn’t finish, but I’m reading a lot now about food procurement in the Civil War, how they managed to feed thousands of soldiers out in the field.”
His respect for seasonal Southern agriculture has had a heavy influence on Kudzu RVA’s offerings.
“We try to keep the menu as hyperlocal as possible,” he said. “We have vendors we’ve worked with for a very long time now to get the best ingredients we can.”
Being that selective and keeping things seasonal has kept the menu from stagnating.
“We change the menu all the time,” Leung-Richardson said. “Sometimes, it’s frustrating for people when something they loved isn’t available anymore. But when that happens, we usually find a way to bring it back.”
For the July 2 “Great American Recipe” event, Leung-Richardson will be demonstrating how to make Char Siu BBQ Pork with Reservoir Whiskey, a dish that clearly represents the two cultures that made him.
After spending so much of his early life trying to cook anything but Asian food, Leung-Richardson said he’s now honored to continue the tradition of his mother’s family.
“For my grandparents, food was a love language,” he said, recalling a common Cantonese greeting that translates to “Have you eaten?”
“That’s how my grandma always said hello to family and friends,” he said. “And the understanding was, ‘Because if you haven’t, I’m going to feed you.”
On July 2 at 9:00am join Chef Leung-Richardson at our booth at the RVA Big Market in Bryan Park as he honors his Cantonese family and Southern roots cooking up Char Siu BBQ Pork with Reservoir Whiskey, sample it and learn how his culture has inspired his flavors and iconic dishes!
Recipe: Char Siu BBQ Pork with Reservoir Distillery Whiskey
Note: Pay close attention to the meat when broiling -- you are looking for it to darken and caramelize, not blacken. Serve with rice and vegetables. Leftover pork can be used in fried rice.
READY IN: 2 hrs 25 mins
- 1 (4 lb) boneless pork butt
- 1⁄2 cup sugar
- 1⁄2 cup soy sauce or 1⁄2 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1⁄4 cup dry sherry
- 1⁄4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1⁄4 cup ketchup
- 1⁄3 cup honey
- Cut pork butt in half lengthwise. Turn each half on cut side and slice each half into 4 equal pieces (you will end up with 8 strips). Trim excess hard, waxy fat, leaving some fat to render while cooking.
- Using fork, prick each piece of pork on all sides. Place pork in large plastic zipper-lock bag. Combine sugar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sherry, pepper, five-spice powder, sesame oil, ginger and garlic in medium bowl.
- Measure out 1/2 cup marinade and set aside.
- Pour remaining marinade into bag with pork. Press out as much air as possible; seal bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
- While meat marinates, combine ketchup and honey with reserved marinade in small saucepan. Cook glaze over medium heat until syrupy, 4-6 minutes.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300°F Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set wire rack on sheet. Spray the wire rack and rimmed pan with vegetable oil spray (this will help to facilitate cleanup).
- Remove park from marinade, letting any excess drip off, and place on wire rack. Pour 1/4 cup water into bottom of pan. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil, crimping edges tightly to seal. Cook pork 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and continue to cook until edges of pork begin to brown, 40-45 minutes.
- Turn on broiler (do not use a drawer broiler). Broil pork until evenly caramelized, 7-9 minutes. Remove pan from oven and brush pork with half of glaze; broil until deep mahogany color, 3-5 minutes. (Watch carefully; do not allow to blacken.).
- Using tongs, flip meat and broil until other side carmelizes, 7-9 minutes. Brush meat with remaining glaze and continue to broil until second side is deep mahogany, 3-5 minutes.
- Cool for at least 10 minutes, then cut into thin strips and enjoy!