CLAE Perspectives | David Kuo
Discover the Culinary Journey of David Kuo: From Political Science to Taiwanese Soul Food.
In the bustling world of Los Angeles' culinary scene, a hidden gem exists - the story of David Kuo. After graduating with a degree in political science, David embarked on a career in property management, treading the conventional path of corporate life. Yet, a serendipitous moment would forever change his career trajectory, leading him to dive headfirst into the vibrant and delicious world of food.
Bringing Authenticity to Fatty Mart
Q: You graduated with a degree in political science, worked in property management, and then ventured into the food world. Was there a specific moment that made you change your career path?
A: There actually was! One of the properties I was managing had a restaurant on it, and I ended up moonlighting there as a cook five nights per week. I loved working in the kitchen and decided to get serious about it, so I signed up for cooking school and feel as though I found my calling in life.
Q: So tell us about Little Fatty and Taiwanese soul food, and what do you hope guests take away after eating at your restaurant?
A: We really want the guest to enjoy themselves, dive into some really great Taiwanese and Chinese food, sip on some (award-winning!) cocktails, and forget about the world for two hours while they are here. We want it to always be comforting, crave-able and a welcome escape from the daily grind.
Q: What's the David Kuo special at Little Fatty, your "stuck on a desert island" meal that you must always have?
A: I think it would have to be our dan dan mian dish. The flavors are so bold, and the spice level is just right. We make our own mafaldine noodles, which pick up all the sauce, and we make sure to pack the dish with extra sauce, so you can spoon it over some rice at the end.
Q: Now you’ve got Fatty Mart, a new take on the Asian convenience store, what made you want to go into retail?
A: I had this idea to be able to feed our community all the great things I love to eat and cook, all under one roof. Right now, we are adding to the menu, which I’m so excited about –– we are planning on launching a whole pasta line that is Italian inspired with Asian ingredients, i.e., a dan dan lasagna with Taiwanese tomato egg marinara sauce, soy milk béchamel, with house-made lasagna sheets, as an example.
Q: Your Taiwanese roots play a crucial role in both Little Fatty and Fatty Mart. What are the elements you hope to bring to those experiences that deliver that authenticity that has now become more important than ever?
A: Being a student of culinary arts and history, I really love to discover what makes certain dishes truly authentic and respectful of the cultures from which they were derived. Now that we can get almost every ingredient for every cuisine, it makes it fascinating to try to cook across the map in terms of cuisines. We try to research as much as we can, whether it be through the internet, books, social media, or, most importantly, through people, gathering what is most pertinent to each dish and trying to create a version through our lens. After so much time researching, it's become more and more apparent that we all eat the same. We all use chiles, we all use spices, we all use off-cuts of meats to make soul-satisfying stews and braises… food binds us more than we know, so demonstrating that at our spots is paramount.
Claes' Comfortable Kitchen Attire
Q: What Claes are you wearing today?
A: Today, I'm donning a pair of chinos, and let me tell you, it's all about comfort. When you're in the kitchen all day, crafting dishes and ensuring everything is just right, comfort is key. Chinos are super light and provide the flexibility I need to move around the kitchen with ease. They're like my culinary armor, allowing me to focus on creating delicious Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine at Little Fatty and experimenting with exciting new dishes at Fatty Mart without being weighed down. Plus, they have that perfect blend of style and practicality, making them a great choice for a chef on the move.
Q: Both of your businesses call Mar Vista home. What attracted you to the neighborhood, and what are your favorite spots?
A: I live only ten minutes away, and it really was the Mar Vista Farmers' Market that probably grabbed me the most early on. It's the second or third largest in LA behind Santa Monica, which is impressive. And though the farmers market was (and is) great, there was a need for a local restaurant and more permanent neighborhood market in the community, otherwise you would have to travel to Culver City, or Venice, or Sawtelle. That's what inspired me to come in and open in this charming pocket of our city. As for my personal favorite spot, Sakura sushi will always top the list –– it's 55 years old and has the biggest cuts of fish for their sushi, along with classic Japanese food like teriyaki salmon, udon, and tempura.