Chef Brian Tsao started out wanting to be a musician but teen years spent in China and immersion in its culinary diversity led him on a different path, to the world of restaurants. The son of a Chinese father and Korean mother, Brian grew up in Queens, New York before journeying to Beijing at age fifteen to study at the World Youth Academy, without even knowing Chinese. During his six years in China, he also became guitarist for the country’s first touring thrashcore band and traveled extensively, learning about the specialties of each region including Beijing’s dumplings, Guang Dong’s roast goose with plum sauce, Xin Jiang’s lamb kabobs, and more.
Brian returned to New York needing a job before college and his father directed him to a longtime client who needed help, Michael Hu (former Executive Pastry Chef of the Waldorf Astoria and Grand Hyatt) of Hana Pastries. With no culinary training, Brian truly started at the bottom as a dishwasher, before moving on to packaging and eventually the kitchen. There he discovered a love of pastry as well as learned the skills of chocolate sculpture and sugar showpieces, which Hu was known for. “A highlight of my time there was helping to build an all sugar Gibson Explorer Guitar show piece. After this experience, I decided to skip college.” After two productive but tough years at Hana, Hu suggested Brian further his skills by working for his friend Wojtek Stachura, former head baker at Eli's Bread, at his wholesale bread factory Solina Bakery. Though Stachura was capable of making fantastic bread show pieces, he usually turned down such projects to focus on the 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of dough he processed on a daily basis from a single mixer.
While at Solina, Brian’s mentors convinced him to pursue a formal culinary education and he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He also undertook an externship at Telepan, which with its highly seasonal, ever-changing menu was a formative experience for the young chef.
“Telepan taught and exercised everything I needed to know to become a line cook,” he says. “Telepan was by far the most educational culinary experience in my entire career by far.”
After graduation, Brian moved to the West Coast to work for his uncle, Taiwanese restaurateur Ivan Liang. A year later, he returned to New York and opened Liang’s with his uncle in Flushing, Queens. Unfortunately, Liang’s closed after two years and Brian, though “tired and jaded, but humbled and wiser,” counts the experience as a foundation for his future success.
In 2013, Brian brought his heritage and travel experiences throughout Asia to Mira Sushi & Izakaya. By fusing Japanese, Chinese, Korean and American cuisines, he has created an adventurous, delicious menu of Asian street-food inspired dishes that take a traditional concept in an exciting direction. His mission as a chef is to “remove the stereotypes of Asian cuisine, make good, interesting but still authentic food and keep things approachable.”
In March 2014, Brian appeared on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” where two chefs compete by cooking a dish with an ingredient chosen by Flay. Then the winner faces off against the Food Network star – this time the challenger picks the dish and a panel of three judges chooses the winner. Brian challenged Flay to a taco battle and prevailed with his Beef Bulgogi Tacos, making him the only chef to beat Flay during the first season. Brian has also appeared on Fox 5 Good Day New York, CBS TV and Food Network’s Chopped.
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