January is a time for new beginnings and for Asia Mei, January means transforming local restaurant Franklin Southie into a place of her own – Moonshine 152.
“I want this special spot to continue the unique legacy that the Franklin group is leaving behind, focusing on menus inspired by local product and clean approaches to technique that yield a non-fussy approach to New England food. I want to keep Moonshine as a thoughtful, light reflection of the neighborhood and people who live/work around it,” says Mei.
Mei, a local chef and Southie resident, has a resume that boasts such work experience as Sam’s at Louis (on Southie’s Waterfront), Hamersley’s in the South End and she was the original chef that began at Franklin Southie when it first opened. So it has come full circle as Franklin closes and Moonshine 152 opens. This past new year’s eve was bitter sweet for Mei. It was the last official night for the Franklin Southie. The original menu of the Franklin Southie was served in remembrance and Mei prepared some special appetizers so patrons could get a taste of Moonshine 152 and what is yet to come. The evening also included a key ceremony. “I couldn’t think of a better place to end/start the year. The passing of the key ceremony really meant the world to mean and will be one of the most unforgettable moments of my life ever.”
We sat down recently and chatted with Asia Mei about her new endeavor.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Fremont, California (Northern California), smack dab in the middle of the Silicon Valley.
What brought you to Boston? When I was still in high school in CA, I came out to the East Coast to go to Harvard for summer school. I loved everything about it so much, and immediately associated the area with that first sense of real freedom and independence, that I vowed to come back for college at least. It has now been college plus 11 years.
How long have you lived in South Boston? Almost 5 years!
Did you go to culinary school or are you a self taught chef? I didn’t go to culinary school. I was admitted into Boston College’s Honors Program and majored in Biology and Economics, and minored in education. Any cooking experience has been through either experience in the workplace or self-motivated research.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef? I have always been the sort of person that responds really well to a team atmosphere, but also situations where there are levels or hierarchies to climb. I’ve really enjoy teaching and leading by example. As soon as I saw what a professional kitchen looked like, I knew that was the exact sort of dynamic, interactive, challenging atmosphere I’d been looking for–the wanting to be the actual chef probably just followed suit.
What is your idea behind Moonshine 152? There will be a lot of street-food influence, especially when it comes to the expansive late night menu, and the same concentration on providing really fun and approachable drinks and bar atmosphere. We will continue to serve into the wee hours of the morning for those who are not on the typical 9-5pm schedule, and will offer an always inviting space that offers frequently changing seasonal menus for dinner, late night, and weekend/industry brunches.
What can people expect to see on your menu? A couple of things that don’t ever seem to go far from my repertoire, for example the mushroom tofu burger and the quinoa salad which I change seasonally. I’ll be bumping the quinoa up to a new level though, by adding a new element that I’ve been pretty psyched about–pickled green tea leaves that I’ll be using as if they were an herb component. There will be exciting new things like whole grilled pig ears, smoked fish tacos, and a take on my boyfriend’s father’s Christmas Eve specialty–“Snail salad.” And, of course, as a fun throwback, we’ll be serving up everyone’s favorite from back when I was the chef of the Franklin Southie, the Korean Barbecue Shortrib Tacos. It’s crazy; it has ben almost four years since I’ve served those, and they’re still all anyone ever asks about.
What is something that people might be surprised and delighted by on your menu?
We’ll be doing some fun things like changing up the burger monthly, having a Ron Swanson Inspired Brunch Dish (my absolute favorite character on television, the dish will come complete with the food quote that inspired it), and I will be inviting a few of my favorite bartenders in town to contribute a drink to the beverage menu, in a section labeled “Here In Spirits…”
Favorite thing to cook? I hate this question!! I think my answer is that I love to cook anything, as long as it’s on an actual kitchen hotline. I really love getting into a solid rhythm and cranking out product better and faster than the people around me. I also clearly prefer more old-school approaches to line cooking… there really isn’t a lot of allowances for sous-vide or molecular gastronomy in my kitchen…I mean, I love that stuff, but it’s just not my specialty.
Favorite thing to eat?
Rice, butter, mapo tofu/any Szechuan cuisine, fun salads, pork belly, all seafood…
Favorite thing to drink?
The most unfortunate thing about me is that no matter how much I practice, I am a terrible drinker. I suppose it’s a good thing though, because it really makes me savor what little alcohol I can consume. Favorites are lighter cocktails with champagne or soda (I love effervescence!!), wine, and sake. To me, sake has provided the most pleasant buzz around.
Best part about living in South Boston
The best part about living in South Boston is not only affordably living so close to the parts of downtown that I’ve always loved, like Chinatown and the South End, but that South Boston itself is going through such an exciting evolution. I am continually amazed by the wide range of characters and businesses that come together in this tightly knit community. Southie is able to celebrate both tradition and innovation at the same time. In Southie, there is a very real sense of family, pride, and overall badass tenacity that anyone would be proud to be a part of. I love Southie!
Mei will take the month of January to make some renovations to the restaurant, tweak her menu and get ready to open. As South Boston waits with bated breath for Moonshine 152 to open its doors, Mei is optimistic and enthusiastic about her new endeavor. “I fell in love with this neighborhood and I’m invested in it. “I want Moonshine to be that sort of place that people are drawn to several times a week because it satisfies that social and food/drink craving without being fussy! I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Moonshine 152 is hoping to open its doors in early February.
Photography by Joel Benjamin – http://www.joelbenjamin.com/.