Mister Jiu’s, the star restaurant in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown, just came out with a new cookbook, titled Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food. It’s a thoughtful and detailed book, reflecting Brandon Jew, his restaurant, and historic neighborhood. To be clear: Home cooks will have to rise to the challenge, as the long and complex recipes may be demanding to recreate at home. But there is no rule that cookbooks have to be quick and easy — this is a chef’s book, and a deep dive into an influential chef’s perspective on Chinese-American food in San Francisco.
Mister Jiu’s originally opened in San Francisco in 2016, taking over the massive and historic former Four Seas space, complete with an upstairs banquet hall. It was a big deal that an up-and-coming chef wanted to move into an old space in Chinatown, and restore all 10,000 square feet from the studs up. The book’s intro rolls through Jiu’s own story, growing up in a Chinese-American family in the Bay Area, as well as the history of his restaurant’s space, which dates all the way back to the 1850s.
In person, Jew usually presents as a laid-back Bay Area native. But on paper, this book is a disciplined look into the ingredients, methods, traditions, and key details that he cares about. Along with thoughts on Lazy Susans and a master lesson on woks, you even get to ride Muni’s 1 California bus downtown to go shopping with his grandma, the true expert on the best veggies. But it’s not just his voice we hear: this book was a team effort, including writer Tienlon Ho, recipe developer Christine Gallary, and photographer Pete Lee. As the writer, Ho has spoken candidly with Eater about the challenges of working with an ambitious chef, who wanted the book to reflect his restaurant, versus the publisher, who wanted to serve approachable recipes to home cooks.
For fans of the restaurant, the recipes do include some of the most dazzling dishes, including the sea urchin cheung fan, Dutch crunch barbecue pork buns, and tea-smoked Liberty duck platter, as well as a couple of kick-ins from Mister Jiu’s upstairs cocktail spot, Moongate Lounge, including its lunar cocktails and the spacesuit chicken. Chapters are organized by soup, vegetables, seafood, meat, and rice, roughly in the flow of a banquet, and there is a party menu tucked in at the end.
There’s a serious pantry section right up front, which raises the question: will home cooks want to ferment kohlrabi or cure beef heart? Cooks intimidated by those tasks, however, will still be delighted by the recipe for peanut butter–hoisin sauce, and the milk bread and Chinese pancakes could be fun projects.
Jew did not dumb down his recipes, many of which take multiple days, multiple components, and special equipment. The Liberty roast duck, a fine dining perfectionist’s take on a Chinatown classic, takes 10 to 14 days for curing and calls for a bicycle pump to pump air under the skin. The Dutch crunch barbecue pork buns need four to five days just to marinate the char siu, before you make the bread dough, crunch topping, and barbecue sauce and even start rolling. Some recipe lists call for more than two dozen ingredients, and equipment goes well beyond a wok and a steamer, but also dehydrators, smokers, torches, meat grinders, and sausage stuffers. There are exceptions, including his mom’s sizzling fish (20 minutes! Eight ingredients!). But for the most part, these are not weeknight solutions; they are labors of love.
Fortunately, these meticulous recipes are also accompanied by detailed photos showing how to pleat a potsticker or debone a whole chicken and roll it back into a tight cylinder. Jew’s longtime buddy and photographer Pete Lee, a filmmaker who’s into kung fu movies, shot the book — so in addition to the exquisitely plated dishes, there are slightly cinematic photos of the restaurant and Chinatown, complete with red lanterns and the glow of neon signs.
There is a lot of text on the pages, but sections break it down, and each recipe wisely includes an element called “plan ahead,” with fair warning on what you’re getting yourself into. And if that’s too much, well, it’s still cool to read through and watch this star chef sweat all of the details about what he loves about Chinese American food in San Francisco. Oh, and stare at some photos of purple potstickers and fire-kissed fried rice.
Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown comes out today, March 9, and is available from Omnivore Books, Green Apple Books, the Booksmith, and everywhere else cookbooks are sold.
Photos reprinted with permission from Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.