NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Preparing charcuterie day after day in the kitchen of a meat-centric restaurant, two chefs came to an agreement.
“At some point, we were like, ‘There’s just too much of this,'” Jared Moeller said.
He and Justin Lee decided to open a place of their own, where meat would not be on the menu. Soon, Fat Choy was born.
“Fat Choy is a Chinese fast food joint that’s also vegan,” Lee said.
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Lee and Moeller find inspiration in the flavors they grew up eating in New York’s Chinatown.
“A lot of the food we could never recreate and do better than what everyone in Chinatown has been crushing for decades, so we just wanted to do a new version of it that’s our own,” Lee said.
Their vegan interpretations include rice rolls in charred scallion vinaigrette, tossed with whichever greens look freshest at the market that day. Fried cauliflower gets flavored with garlic and jalapeño and dipped in creamy shallot sauce.
“The only way that we can kind of push the needle towards veganism is to create a really accessible menu,” Lee said. “When you eat something here, it should very much feel like a hug.”
Fat Choy focuses on plants with a eye toward the future.
“Reducing the carbon footprint is very important to us,” Moeller said.
“Jared’s got two little kids. My wife and I want to have kids,” Lee said. “We can’t keep doing the things we’ve been doing.”
Lee and Moeller aim to override mindless habits that yield unnecessary waste. At Fat Choy, the takeaway packaging is environmentally friendly, and unused ingredients are repurposed instead of discarded—extra stems from cauliflower and greens are mixed with sticky rice to build a mushroom sloppy joe, for example.
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Instead of relying on meat substitutes, Lee and Moeller aim to showcase the diversity of vegetables, leaning on a combination of creativity and fine dining techniques.
“We don’t want you to come here because it’s a vegan restaurant or to not come here because you’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to eat vegan food.’ You just come and try it and see how you like it,” Lee said.
For him, it’s a high compliment to see older generations of Chinatown locals try his food and come back for more. Even carnivorous skeptics have become converts.
But most rewarding of all is working alongside his best friend.
“Without that partnership and without that understanding, none of this would be possible.”
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