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Li Family of Mei Mei Street Kitchen

by Amy Harrington November 15th, 2012 | Chef Interviews
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If you are on the busy streets of Boston, Massachusetts, then be sure to stop at Mei Mei Street Kitchen for your next lunch.  Just look for the truck with brightly colored fish on it for delicious, creative Chinese-American cuisine. Mei Mei serves cuisine made from locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. They pride themselves on serving humanely raised meat, produce from small farms, and some of the most creatively delicious street food out there. Andy, Margaret and Irene are three siblings and the passionate co-founders of the Boston food truck. They incorporate the food they ate as children with modern elements and experiences of the present to create dishes that you won’t make you regret stopping at this delicious food truck!

Amy Harrington: If you do, how often do you change your menu?

Irene Li:  Our menu changes at least a little bit every day. The Double Awesome (a crispy scallion pancake sandwich with two slow-poached eggs, VT cheddar and local greens pesto) and the Kale Salad (with garlic breadcrumbs and Narragansett Sea Feta) are always available. The rest of the items rotate and often include soups, Chinese rice porridge (a classic Chinese comfort food), salads, dumplings, and pork dishes. We  butcher whole pigs from John Crow Farm ourselves, so we have lots of  different cuts but not necessarily a lot of each one – so in order to  use up every bit of pork, we change the menu up.

AH: As co-owner, what do you specifically contribute to Mei Mei?

IL: I’m the youngest of the three-sibling team, and my area of responsibility covers the food – prepping, sourcing, ordering, planning the menu, working with farmers, and teaching our staff how to prepare and execute our dishes. I share these responsibilities with my partner, Max.

AH: Where do you get your fresh, local produce?

IL: A lot of our produce comes from Atlas Farm in Deerfield, MA. We meet up with them at the Copley Farmer’s Market twice a week to pick up kale and other goodies. The rest of our produce we order via Market Mobile, a Providence-based food hub that aggregates product that comes to Providence for farmer’s markets. Through them, we’re able to work with over 50 local Rhode Island and Massachusetts farms to buy everything from fresh produce to cheese to dried beans. (www.farmfresh.org/hub should have a list of farms available).

AH:  Do you work with any farms in the area?

IL: In addition to those farms and networks, we buy tofu products from Vermont Soy, pasture-raised beef from Adams Farm, pasture-raised pork from John Crow Farm. 100% of our animal products are sourced locally and regionally (<300 miles), and all of our meat is pasture-raised, meaning that if it didn’t live on grass and dirt in the sun, we don’t serve it.

We also buy greens and other market produce from The Food Project, a local non-profit addressing issues of youth, food, and community in Boston. They run an urban farm, four suburban farms, and a number of youth and volunteer programs. Our staff has collectively volunteered over 150 hours to harvesting veggies and working with a diverse community of high school students on their farms. We use their greens in our pesto and also try to incorporate any leftover produce they have from markets into our menu.

AH:  What is your favorite item on your menu currently?

LF: Currently, my favorite menu item is our Chinese rice porridge, also known as jook, xi fan, or congee. We cook white rice with lots and lots of water so it has a creamy, porridgey or grits-like consistency. Then we top it with ginger-scallion oil, soy nuts, fried Chinese crullers (so crunchy and delicious), roasted or braised meats – right know we’re doing roasted pork belly), fresh herbs or scallions and a slow poached egg. It’s a comfort food and it’s even better on a cold day. When we make staff meal for ourselves, we mix and top the porridge with whatever’s on hand.

AH:  What are some of the advantages of working in a “kitchen truck”

LF: This question made me smile a little bit. There are lots of disadvantages – less equipment, being far from our well-stocked walk-in, no bathrooms! But there are advantages too. My favorite part is getting to be the front-of-house and the back-of-house at the same time, meaning that all of our staff can interact with customers and prepare the food. When I worked as a line cook, I really wished for more opportunity to interact with our guests. I think it’s an advantage for our guests as well – they can see into the kitchen, they can see and talk to all of our staff – it’s a level of transparency that does not exist in most restaurants.

AH:  What makes Mei Mei unique?

LF: One of our tag lines is “local food, made with love,” and I think that sums things up nicely. We’re a family business, and we consider our staff to be part of our extended family, so love and caring runs through our ethic as a team. We make our food with love, meaning that we cook from scratch; we take as few shortcuts as we can bear, and we source our food carefully so that everyone in the equation can feel good about what we do. Our guests reap the benefits of eating diverse and seasonal array fresh, wholesome products, supporting local farms and businesses, and having access to a lot of information about where their food comes from and how it was prepared. We think of what we do as an experiment in which we try to have as much fun as possible, use as much local product as possible, and serve food that is as delicious as possible. We think our guests like being along for that ride.

Photo courtesy of Amber Luan

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