There’s no shortage of articles and television shows that showcase the dishes that chefs love to cook at their restaurants. But, what do they love to eat at the end of their exhausting 16-hour days? Or on their days off? In this series, we ask Milwaukee area chefs to share their favorite dishes – both from area restaurants and for eating at home. In this edition, we talked with Chef Tony Ho of RuYi.
Chef Tony Ho was born in Hong Kong, where the influence of Great Britain was pervasive. "Growing up, it was a mishmash of so many cultures. For breakfast, we’d have coffee or tea, bacon and sausage. There were also a lot of organs – kidney and liver – which were eaten for breakfast with eggs. And there was afternoon tea. I grew up with all of that, along with all the different cuisines from Chinese to Portuguese to French and German."
Ho says he’s always loved food. Every kind of food. "I like to try everything," he says. But, among his favorite cuisines, he holds a special place for Italian.
"When I was 13, I moved to Tokyo, Japan," he recalls. "And my first experience eating pasta was at a Hyatt Hotel. I was 16, and I was interning there. From that point, I grew to really appreciate the differences between the Italian regions, learning the differences between all of the ingredients."
Ho moved to the Chicago, Illinois, with his family at age 23. Over the years, he worked at countless hotels and restaurants. But, by the the mid-1980s, he made the decision to move south, to Wichita, Kansas. There, he worked in a number of restaurants before taking the leap to open his own.
Soon, one thing led to another and Ho owned three successful eateries: Roma Pasta Bistro, Shanghai Gourmet and two locations of Kyoto, a restaurant specializing in Japanese cuisine. When his daughter’s health warranted a move in 2007, he sold his restaurants and moved to Milwaukee, where he secured a position as opening chef for RuYi.
"To this day, I still eat very widely," says Ho. "I’m a very simple person, and I’m not picky. But, I can’t eat Asian food or sushi or rice every day. As long as the ingredients are good and fresh and the chef is good, I’m happy."
Crispy bay scallop and calamari scramble at Blue’s Egg
"I try a lot of different dishes there, and no matter which ones I get, they are always good. The crispy blue crab cake is one of my favorites. There’s not a lot of filler in the cake, and it tastes so clean and so sweet. I also love the crispy bay scallop and calamari scramble. That’s probably my favorite. I don’t know how they make the sauce, but it’s so rich in flavor. It comes to your tongue and you can really get all the tomato flavor. It’s so delicious. It’s busy for a reason. You always have to wait for a table because so many people love their food."
Dry aged porterhouse at Milwaukee ChopHouse
"I love steak. One day, a friend suggested we go to the Milwaukee ChopHouse. The service was very good. Normally order bone-in ribeye. Our waiter asked if I wanted to try the dry aged porterhouse; he assured me it was delicious. So, I ordered it. And holy cow. It was unbelievable. It was so rich in flavor and so tender. My friend ordered the ribeye, and I made him taste mine. It was so good, even better than the ribeye."
Braised short ribs at Wild Earth Cucina
"Chef Audrey (Vandenburgh) created the dish when she was executive chef at Wild Earth. And I still remember them. They were perfectly braised and absolutely delicious; there was red wine and herbs. And the meat … oh my gosh, it was so tender. It was a thick piece of meat, but the texture was so buttery. I still wish I would have asked her how she made them."
Ultimate comfort food
"I like so many different foods. But one thing I love is traditional American chicken noodle soup or chicken dumpling soup. When I’m sick, the first thing I think is, 'Someone get me some chicken noodle soup.' I love it even when I’m not sick. It’s a great traditional American food that’s just so delicious and comforting."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.