When I received the invitation to join chef Myong Feiner in the kitchen of her cafe and restaurant, Myong Gourmet, I was intrigued to say the least. I had read about their fresh culinary offerings right here on Small Bites, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to check it out for myself. So, I decided to do something different for this restaurant — I was going into this kitchen “cold” without any prior dining experiences or pre-conceived tastes. Here’s what I learned when I went behind the kitchen door at Myong Gourmet.
Restaurant: Myong Gourmet in Mt. Kisco
Description: This 55+ seat cafe and restaurant is set back in an angled corner on Main Street. It’s unassuming on the outside; yet, on the inside, the signature colors of red and black and textures of wood and steel are bold and vibrant. It has an industrial feel with its high ceilings and exposed duct work. But when I sat in the dining room to chat with chef Myong Feiner, I felt a surprising sense of coziness.
The beautiful and unique pictures positioned along the perimeter of the dining room are Myong’s own artwork. She pointed out that each one means something in Korean like dream or prosperity. I realized that when she looks around that room she sees something very different from everyone else, especially when her eye happens to fall on this one meaning Executive Chef.
Cuisine: Myong Gourmet’s cuisine is described as Progressive World Cuisine with influences from the US, Europe, Korea and East Asia. What I saw and tasted was healthy ingredients and clean flavors being served up with Myong’s special Korean/Asian twist.
Don’t let chef Myong’s slight stature fool you — she is a culinary powerhouse. As I talked to her before starting my day, I was energized by her strong can-do attitude. However, I was taken aback when she confidently admitted she doesn’t own a single cookbook. Gasp!? Internally, I cringed because my recipes are like a collection old friends; pages of food memories of dinners past. Her explanation is understandable though. Recipes tend to hinder her perception of what she is trying to achieve in a dish. Her menu creations come solely from her imagination, and she intuitively knows exactly how it is going to taste even before the first bite.
As all chef/owners will tell you, unfortunately it’s not just about being in the kitchen. Together with her husband, Rob Feiner, they oversee all aspects of running Myong Gourmet. Rob is somewhat of a jack of all trades as resident photographer, IT computer support, public relations, designer, and even Costco shopper. It’s a time consuming and exhausting task for both of them, yet what motivates Myong is the instant gratification of seeing customers enjoy her food.
Staff: Running both a cafe and restaurant could not be accomplished without major front of house and kitchen support. General Manager Chnoo’s responsibilities include overseeing the front of house. Behind the cafe counter, a staff of about five makes salads, sandwiches and wraps while juggling the registers and serving.
In the kitchen, there were at least three busy prep chefs. In an industry that is usually male dominated, what really interested me about this kitchen is that Myong’s two main chefs are both female. Pastry chef and CIA grad, Kristen, splits her responsibilities between set up/prep and baking. Her day starts at 6 am to take care of filling the front cases with all the salads and baked goods for the opening of the cafe at 7 am.
At noon, she switches into baking mode at her own spacious prep area in the back corner of the kitchen.
Sous chef Karina comes in late morning to start prepping and setting the line up for dinner service. While I was in the kitchen, she made quick work of the task of deshelling some lobsters to start a stock for the lobster bisque soup, as well as grilling off some flank steaks for the cafe.
Signature dish: In the cafe, the most asked for item is the Ahi Tuna Cellophane Wrap. Although it sounds like you are breaking out the plastic wrap, it’s actually made with Asian rice paper. The dried rice paper rounds look like thin, transparent tortillas, which are made pliable by softening in hot water.
Then, the rice paper is expertly wrapped around Ahi tuna, lettuce, carrot, seaweed, and avocado. It’s finished with Myong’s housemade sesame sauce (a bestseller on its own as they go through almost a gallon a day!).
Being an obsessive gadget queen, I was even more impressed that a high tech Vollrath induction cooktop was used to keep that bowl of water at the perfect temperature to dip the wraps.
Why is this so cool? Simply explained, rather than the direct heat of traditional gas or electric, this device uses an electromagnet to heat the pot (as long as it is made up of magnetic material like iron or steel, in this case a metal bowl). Induction cooktops are great because they are so responsive — they can boil water on high in minutes, yet can be turned down to a simmer just as fast. A major plus, since there isn’t an open heat source, is that they keep the cooking area cool. Want to know more? — here’s the Mr. Wizard, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and MythBusters explanation all rolled into one.
Size of kitchen: The kitchen area, built entirely to the Feiner’s specifications, is about 1,000 sq. feet (a NYC apartment could fit in there!). There are two refrigerated walk-in boxes, one for produce and the other for prepped items. In the back of the latter, there’s also a walk-in freezer. Amazingly, there’s even room for a small office in the back by the pastry station.
Size of prep area: There were a few areas being used for prep. The main section included the counter opposite the cooking area, measuring about 10 ft x 2 ft on both sides. There was a stainless steel table about the same dimension cattycorner to the line creating another separate work space. Off by itself in the far corner was the pastry prep area which was unusually wide measuring approximately 5 ft x 3 ft.
Turning up the heat: Along one wall of the kitchen is control central for this restaurant with one workhorse appliance after another. First up was a unique piece of equipment — a standalone gas wok which is primarily used for stir frying (more details on that a little later).
Moving on into Vulcan territory, there’s an expansive 10 burner, double oven stove, a three foot griddle used for searing and above that a salamander broiler.
Next, there’s another three feet of a TEC grill, which uses infrared heat giving it the ability to reach up to 800 degrees (now that’s sizzling hot!).
Not done yet. At the end of the line is a separate Turbo Air burner with a total BTU of 79,000 just for stock pots. Whew, that’s an impressive lineup!
Coolest appliance: Across from all that fire power is a Rational double oven.
This oven can do almost anything like adding steam for crisp bread crusts, one button programming for specific recipes, or using it as a “hot box” to keep food warm for catering. When I found out that it even has a feature to update and backup its software through a USB port, I teasingly asked if it can send an email when a dish is ready — why yes, sure it can! Most importantly, what this appliance gives this kitchen is the ability to achieve consistent and duplicable results.
Chef’s favorite dish: From Myong’s extensive menu, she is partial to the Roasted Root Salad because just one bite is packed with so many flavors and vitamins. It’s a super healthy combination of tofu, beets, carrots, parsnips, yams, pears and feta.
One of my tasks was prepping carrots, some of which were roasted up for this salad.
This is the bag I started with
and this is what the carrots looked like after they met the wrath of my Swiss Kuhn Rikon veggie peeler.
For the record, the reason I purchased this tool was NOT because it’s purple (really, it was just a coincidence that it matched my chef jacket). I had finally taken the advice of one of my good cheffy friends who can’t live without this quick, easy and efficient peeler. As I finished each carrot, all I kept thinking was how much I was going to thank him for convincing stubborn me!
Secret ingredient: In Myong’s kitchen, her secret is balance. It’s not about one single ingredient, which if used to excess can overpower a dish. She’s strives to always find exactly the right combination of ingredients to make a dish her own.
Favorite kitchen gadget: Ding ding. Once again the answer is a knife, but with an excellent explanation from Myong: without a knife, what could you do in a kitchen? So true! As I watched her delicately peel the tough skin of jicama with a chef knife, I realized that it doesn’t hurt to have some awesome knife skills, too.
It was a set of Vollrath oval measuring scoops that caught my eye. Best described as spoon shaped cups in graduated sizes, they were easy to use and nested together compactly for storage. I’m putting those on my gadget wish list.
Hardest working appliance: The supercharged Vitamix blender makes quick work of all of Myong’s signature dressings/sauces like Lime Cilantro, Lemon Ginger, or Sesame Cream.
If this industrial blender wasn’t powerful enough, its big sister sits out behind the counter in the cafe just waiting to blend up some fruity smoothies.
Chef’s culinary mentor: Myong has been inspired by her mother’s innovative cooking style. Growing up in a small Korean village, she explained that each family made the traditional kimchi, a mix of fermented cabbage and vegetables. Her mother’s version was completely different and unique from any other in the village.
So, watching Myong put together a batch of kimchi was a real special treat. To a mountain of napa cabbage, wilted from a salt water soak, she added ingredient after ingredient. In went carrots, Asian chili, garlic, ginger, apples, and scallions. Sometimes she even adds Asian pear and sticky rice. How was my very first bite of kimchi? – savory yet sweet with a zesty kick.
What’s cooking in the kitchen now: It was exciting to stand beside Myong at the wok station while she made the Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry. As I watched the hot flames of the burner flick up the sides of the wok, Myong patiently added each ingredient, stirring constantly making sure everything cooked evenly.
Best part was enjoying the stir fry for lunch and taking a picture with Myong!
Every day there is so much prep for the salad components that it is mind boggling how it all gets done. The kitchen can go through 120 pounds of bok choy alone each week! For the Veggie Delight Salad, Myong sliced and diced daikon (Asian radish that has a pleasant sweet crunch), jicama, fennel, celery, bok choy, carrots, and cabbage.
For dinner that night, I purchased this fresh and crispy salad and it totally lived up to its name — it was truly delightful. The very generous assortment of greens came with a lovely pairing of dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. I admit I’m a little greedy with my salad dressing. So, when the side dressing ran out, I quickly reached for the bottle of lemon ginger dressing I conveniently picked up from the front case.
What’s on the prep list: While Myong methodically went through item after item on her mental prep list, I noticed that pastry chef Kristin had the only written list.
Her first task was making bread — flatbread to be exact. Kristen starts out making the dough and letting it have good rise. Then, she portions it out into softball size rounds
which are rolled flat.
Then, it’s over to the grill where they are “baked” up leaving beautiful grill marks with a crisp outer crust and a soft chewy center.
After the first turn, Kristen sprinkles each one with Za’atar, a Middle Eastern blend of spices including cumin, sesame, coriander, and sumac.
It’s a nice touch that this bread, offered at dinner service, is made in-house. Even better that it is served with a rotating trio of condiments like edamame hummus, chickpea avocado, and salsa.
Details: Myong Gourmet, 487 Main Street, Mount Kisco. 914.241.6333. Cafe is open Monday through Saturday, 7 am to 6 pm and Sunday, 8 am to 3 pm. Lunch is served in the dining room Monday thru Saturday, 11 am to 3 pm. Dinner is served Monday thru Saturday starting at 5 pm.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. When not on foodie assignments, she can be found working in the open kitchen at Thyme Restaurant in Yorktown.