Haijing "Zing" Bai, the founder of Zing"s Awesome Rice, discusses her successful restaurant in Thành Phố New York, her life prior lớn becoming an entrepreneur in the city’s competitive sầu food industry, American ideas about fried rice and her plans lớn expand the business.

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Last summer, Haijing “Zing” Bai’s parents in Beijing had no idea their daughter had quit her law firm job in Thành Phố New York & they were telling her, as they did during every weekly Điện thoại tư vấn, how proud they were of her career.

“People say, ‘Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,’ so that’s what I did,” said the 36-year-old founder of Zing’s Awesome Rice on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I know they are very proud of me.”

Since Awesome Rice launched last November, the 400-square-foot open-kitchen spot has become a neighborhood favorite & has received media coverage that includes positive nhận xét by The Thủ đô New York TimesNBC News. Plus, it is breaking even. It achieved this by serving one core product: a 26-ounce, 700-calorie serving of fried rice made with a touch of olive sầu oil, protein và vegetable of choice.

“It’s very balanced,” she said. “I think we got very lucky that people like the hàng hóa và people like the place.”

Since coming lớn the United States for college in 1998, Bai has been involved in many fields outside the food industry. She has tutored piano, administered the Test of English as a Foreign Language, been an executive sầu assistant at a real estate agency, worked at Teavamãng cầu, traveled all over America during a three-month stint as a flight attendant and interned at the U.S. Securities và Exchange Commission. Along the way, she picked up an MBA from Hawaii Pacific University và a J.D. with distinction from Cornell.

Oh, và she published her first novel, an urban romance about young Chinese finding their place in American society, on Amazon in May.

Bai, born và raised in Beijing, attributes her creativity khổng lồ her father. She said he almost never cooks the same thing twice và went out of his way lớn expose her to lớn different cuisines. Once, when she was eight years old, he insisted that she sip a beer from the first German brewery that opened in Beijing because it was “so cool.”

Looking ahead, Bai wants khổng lồ bring her Chinese dishes to lớn diners all over the United States, much like Japanese ramen has spread into cities around the nation. She spoke with about that dream, how she began her journey as a restaurateur & her busy life outside of Awesome Rice. How did you over up in the United States?

Bai: I came here in 1998. Some American college recruiter came lớn my high school, Beijing No. 4 High School. I was successfully recruited, so I came to the U.S. for college. I majored in business, & after that I got my MBA from the same college where I got my undergrad degree . I worked in business, management, logistics, food & the beverage industry for a while before I went to law school, and practiced law lớn the point I decided to lớn open this cửa hàng. Why did you go to lớn law school?

Bai: I wanted to expvà my horizons. I grew up in Đài Loan Trung Quốc, và all my education was more business-y stuff, so I feel the law school experience filled me in with lots of history, politics & legal background of the United States. How did you go from working in a law firm to running your own restaurant?

Bai: I know many lawyers or ex-lawyers who left firms to bởi vì all kinds of exciting, different things — making cupcakes, selling fashion products, for example. But mostly I heard that they hated being a lawyer, so they left. It’s a completely different story for me. I loved being a lawyer. I really enjoyed it. It was giving up something that I loved khổng lồ vì chưng … for something that’s completely new. When did you get the idea to open your own restaurant?

Bai: Probably spring 2013. I often host dinner parties, brunch parties. Many of my friends were impressed by both the taste & the presentation & unique control of the food. They said, “Oh, you should open a restaurant.” When I’d heard that 18 times, I started to seriously think about it. I thought, “Wait a minute, vì Americans necessarily understand fried rice?” What worries did you have sầu launching the business?

Bai: Owning a business is having an infant baby. Anything could happen. I vì chưng have the confidence in the concept & in myself as a person, together with my team. We will be able khổng lồ handle any emergency, but still I have fear for any emergency. What style of Chinese food vày you lượt thích the most?

Bai: I probably lượt thích every cuisine for its uniqueness, and also I lượt thích many kinds of different fusion foods. I’m a big foodie. I’m a big bạn of everyday Cantonese food. I think the Cantonese have sầu a great culinary culture, from their everyday congee stuff, dyên sum, khổng lồ the high-end seafood. It’s one cuisine that can be so inclusive & so sophisticated. What is important khổng lồ you about Chinese food?

Bai: What I love sầu about Chinese food in general is, first, the homey feeling to it. For example, my dad is not a chef but he is very good & very passionate about cooking. Cooking to lớn him was a way lớn express his love sầu to his family, although he was very busy when I was a kid. Maybe once a month … he would cook us this elaborate meal. From a very young age, I connected food and cooking for people as a way lớn express love sầu. That’s one thing I think of Chinese food. It’s love. It’s very warm. Another thing about Chinese food is it’s just such a không tính phí & rich style. We use steaming, searing, frying, deep-frying … all kinds of cooking methods và such a large range of ingredients. What is one of your favorite dishes that your dad makes?

Bai: My dad’s fried rice. It’s so addictive, although it’s not the healthiest thing. That’s why I changed his method. Sorry, Dad. He uses way too much oil. I cut lượt thích 99 percent of his oil — just a little dash of olive sầu oil to be heart-healthy. I really liked his Xi’an cold noodle (凉皮). It’s also gluten-không lấy phí. My dad is from Xi’an, so his cold noodle is very, very good. What was your first impression of food in America?

Bai: Food-wise, I actually never had a cultural shoông xã. My dad purposely exposed me to lớn many different types of cuisines growing up in Đài Loan Trung Quốc. I rethành viên when the first German beer hall opened in 1988 in Beijing, my dad took me there. He even let me drink draft beer. I was eight. My dad was lượt thích, “Oh, this is something so cool, German brewery beer, let’s go try it out.” My dad is such a foodie. When I came to the U.S., a sandwich was not an unfamiliar thing. I’d had pizza before. So it was rather easy on me. Secondly, I was in places that offered both pretty decent Asian food as well as Western food. I didn’t feel I was forced lớn eat only one type of thing.

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Bai: They would probably say, “Oh, frozen beans in there, overnight char siu , some leftover rice, should cost two dollars.” But that shouldn’t be the way. I think Asian people would picture fried rice so differently. We wouldn’t regard the Chinese takeout version of fried rice lớn be real fried rice. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a người, lớn certain extent, of Chinese takeout food. But I would never order fried rice from a Chinese takeout place because it really can’t compare lớn what fried rice, a Chinese staple, could be. I want to educate the foodies & everyone here in the North American market on what good fried rice should be. Not even to say what authentic, Chinese fried rice should be but just how can we make healthy, modern, nutritious, balanced và yummy fried rice. Twenty years ago there was no such a thing as ramen, but now it’s a household American thing. Fried rice could be the next ramen. What is the next step you’re considering for the expansion of Zing’s Awesome Rice?

Bai: We want to lớn stabilize operations and grow up here first. I’m starting the retìm kiếm và talking to industry veterans. I’ve sầu been looking at locations in Midtown & Financial District. What vì chưng you think about Chinese food in Thủ đô New York City?

Bai: There is pretty good Sichuan food, Cantonese food. Pretty good Shanghainese food, too. But we are missing lots of northern Chinese food and also these daily, homey foods, such as the northern style of congee. And because of the great success of Chinese takeout-style food — Americanized Chinese food — Americans may not be even aware that they are missing a lot. How has opening this restaurant influenced your perspective on Đài Loan Trung Quốc, the U.S. and the relation between the two?

Bai: This experience makes me embrace my Chinese roots even more. I feel I’m doing a job as an ambassador of Chinese culture, or at least partial Chinese culture, because this is fusion. And having this restaurant actually gave me time lớn write và finish my book, which is my first Chinese fiction writing. What is your connection to Trung Quốc at this point in your life?

Bai: I am Chinese, và I will always be a Chinese — regardless of my citizenship. I feel there is this deep root and connection between me and Đài Loan Trung Quốc as a country and a culture. Many of my sentiments, literature preferences, cooking skills và ingredient selections — these things cannot be separated from my Chinese roots & Chinese background. I’m very lucky that I have sầu this Chinese leg và I have sầu this American or international leg. How will you be involved with China in the future?

Bai: I have a few high school friends who reached out to lớn me to ask if I want to bring my brvà khổng lồ Đài Loan Trung Quốc — maybe have sầu a chain store. I’m very positive sầu about the future opportunity to bring Zing’s Awesome Rice to Trung Quốc. What is something that you think people misunderstvà but is important to know about China?

Bai: I think it’s important for people here to understand that Trung Quốc is a huge and very diverse place. Like here: American culture, Midwestern culture và New Orleans culture, Long Isl&, Maine — it’s completely different. So when you think about China: Xi’an, Beijing, Shangnhì, Guangzhou và Fujian, Xinjiang. So diverse. So different. What is your book, Love, etc., about, & what has been your experience as an author?

Bai: It is based on a new immigrant lượt thích myself và my friends, who were born in Trung Quốc, came khổng lồ this country as foreign students và absorbed the culture here, và find their place in society as young professionals, as entrepreneurs. It’s heavily about romance and love, but also touches upon immigrant life & career. Why vì chưng you quote Chinese poetry in the book?

Bai: I’m a big fan of Chinese ancient literature, including Tang poems, the Song Dynasty lyrics và poems. And also lots of new age Chinese writers. Who is your favorite Chinese writer?

Bai: Feng Tang, from mainl& Trung Quốc, who is the chairman of one of the biggest Chinese investment banks and also an ex-McKinsey partner. Unfortunately, Chen Zhongshi just passed away. He is very, very well-regarded, & one of my favorite writers. Who is your favorite musician?

Bai: Yo-Yo Ma. What is your favorite movie?

Bai: I lượt thích early Wong Kar-wai, basically everything up to 2014. Zhou Xingchi is pure awesomeness, but I haven’t seen his lakiểm tra movie yet.

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Bai: Other than Zing’s Awesome Rice, my dad’s cooking, because his cooking is so diverse và full of creativity.