It has been 40 years since Ed Schoenfeld helped open Uncle Tai's Hunan Yuan, New York City's first four-star Chinese restaurant. Working as a captain in the front of the house, he hosted an illustrious clientele that included Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol, before going on to preside over the dining rooms of several other landmark eateries throughout the city. These days Mr. Schoenfeld, one of the country's foremost experts on Chinese cuisine, is the proud co-owner of RedFarm, a popular dim sum restaurant in Manhattan's West Village. A second RedFarm location is due to open on the Upper West Side next month, in addition to a new bar and dining room in the space downstairs from the original location. Last January, Mr. Schoenfeld and his wife, Elisa Herr, a financial editor, moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the Forest Hill neighborhood of Newark, N.J. He spoke to us in the kitchen of the 1909 Georgian-style house that he and Ms. Herr share with their cat, Cocoa Chai Latte. URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323628004578459070142111656.html?mod=slideshow_overlay_mod
I've been cooking every single day since I was a kid. On Fridays we got off school at 1 p.m., and my mom would still be working, so I'd go to my grandmother's house. She was the kind of cook that made everything from scratch. I absorbed a lot. From an emotional, internal perspective, it was something I was drawn to.
I'm in the city as much as I always was, but instead of going back to Brooklyn at night, I come back here to New Jersey. It's hard to complain about my lifestyle. I can entertain, I have peace and quiet, I can play and cook. We have a pool table downstairs. It's special here. If offered a choice among fancy clothes, a car and taking $40,000 trips, I'd rather live in a nice home.
These days I cook at home more in the daytime. I'm in the restaurant a lot at night. I'd say out of 30 days in a month, I cook 28 or 29.
If you're a New York Jewish guy, you grew up eating Chinese food. That's what you do. I grew up loving spare ribs, chicken and almonds, shrimp and lobster. It was tasty. It was accessible to me.
I started learning Chinese cooking from Grace Chu, an upper-class Mandarin lady from Shanghai. I was 17 or 18, and she was probably 70. If you wanted to study Chinese cooking in New York City, she was the doyenne. But she didn't know the chefs' secrets, and that gap provoked me. It identified for me what I wanted to learn. What was I missing?
When I was 19, I took my first trip to Europe, and I started visiting Michelin three-star restaurants. By the time I was 23 or 24 I'd been to every three-star restaurant in France. There were days I slept in the car so I could spend my money on the meal.
One thing I've done my entire adult life is go through periods of time where I focus on a certain theme, and I try to cook food on that theme. The theme lately has been making Chinese-flavored dishes using Italian ingredients, or using Asian ingredients to flavor the dish in an Italian way.
I never wanted to be a chef—I wanted to be an authority. I wanted to be a media figure.
My kitchen is not the most well-designed one for a cook. It's better to have all the major components within arm's reach. But I do love the kitchen's size and style. There's this eclecticism that I'm very comfortable in. I like our "APPLES" sign. I love the different lights, and this old cut-glass American globe. I like having all the counter space.
Today, "foodie-ism" is such a big part of people's lives, in every way. I say that when I told my dad I was dropping out of college to work in cooking, he broke a chair over my head and told me to get out of the house. That's not literally true, but my parents were profoundly unhappy.
My favorite toys are pots and pans. I have a tin-lined copper wok that was made for me by Cesare Mazzetti, who's arguably the number one maker of fine, handmade cookware in the world. He has a copper shop in the basement of the main church in Montepulciano, Tuscany.
I have closets full of chinaware and silver. There's my family's fine china—it's from B&L England—and a whole bunch of items I brought back from Japan. Tons of stuff.
I probably have a thousand cookbooks in the house, and they're almost all in boxes. There was a point when I'd buy cookbooks constantly, and now I don't. But if you look at my copy of Escoffier, you'll see a stain on every page.
We've gone for years without much music in the house, but we just got a new stereo, and so I have it on all the time. These are some of the Pandora stations we have set up: Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Eddie Condon. My wife and I have very different tastes. I listen to a lot of classical music—Bach, the Mozart station. She would go for Michael Bublé.
One of the really neat things about being in Newark is the Portuguese-speaking community. When I go shopping for olive oil now, I'll go to the Portuguese market and they'll have 100 kinds of olive oils, all from Portugal, and you won't find them anywhere else. We have great local bread from a bakery here in Newark called Calandra's. It's very commercial bread, but it makes unbelievably awesome toast.
Health is a consideration when I cook at home, but I also want things that taste really good. I prioritize delicious over authentic. And these days I increasingly want to eat really simple things. The last few dishes I cooked were egg salad, macaroni with fennel sausage and tomatoes, fried chicken and potato pancakes.
When I travel, I usually like to rent a place with a kitchen so I can try and cook with local stuff. We were recently in Kauai. My favorite meal was when I went to the local farmers' market and got all this amazing fruit.
I'm very social. I like the conviviality and the social aspect of eating with others, but I like exploring too. I'm always exploring food markets, ethnic neighborhoods, Chinatowns. It's fun to do that on my own.
Depending on what's going on, I leave the restaurant in the 9 o'clock to 10 o'clock range. I might eat a little something during the staff meal, but most nights I eat at home. I want to have dinner with my wife.