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Published: Tuesday, 5/23/2006

East meets West in former Toledoan's dishes

Chinablue founder and creator Richard Wong. Chinablue founder and creator Richard Wong.

Richard Wong returned to the Toledo area with a high-energy cooking demonstration at Walt Churchill's Briarfield featuring his Chinablue culinary product line and his cookbook Modern Asian Flavors: A Taste of Shanghai (Chronicle, $18.95).

It's been 30 years since he graduated from St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo, and the graduate of Miami University said it was good to be back in the area. But, he wanted to know, "is it always this cold in May?" The local temperature was around 60 degrees, and he'd left warmer weather in San Francisco.

During the food demonstration Friday in the Monclova Township market's Stage area, assisted by sous chef Jerry Bodnar of Churchill's, Mr. Wong demonstrated a Sesame Soy Pork Tenderloin, a recipe from the cookbook that he adapted to the Chinablue Red Pepper Flakes sauce. The cookbook's recipes are based on his grandmother's recipes, from which he has adapted his Shanghai-style sauces.

The cookbook shows Shanghai-style cooking as a distinctive blend of Asian and European ingredients.

Inspired by the tales of the sophistication and grace of his birthplace, Shanghai, Mr. Wong is developing a collection of ultrapremium lifestyle products that he intends to sell worldwide under three brands: Chinablue culinary, Chinablue home, and Chinablue destination. The culinary products are sold in Churchill's and nationally at stores such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats.

"Some of my times in Ohio made me want to tell my culture and lifestyle concept," he said during a phone interview in April from San Francisco, where he lives with his wife, Susan, and two daughters ages 8 and 12.

Born in 1958, he came to the United States with his father, mother, and younger brother. In 1969, he stood beside his father at the Lucas County courthouse in downtown as he placed his hand over his heart and became an American citizen.

He remembers attending elementary and middle school in the Toledo area and later St. John's, where he played basketball and football until he was a sophomore, and tennis in his junior and senior years.

After graduating from Miami University with a degree in architecture, "I was supposed to go back East [Hong Kong]," he recalls. But his father was ill and he returned to Toledo, working with his father in real estate development. "In less than a year, he died."

Because his maternal grandfather lived in San Francisco, he moved to the West Coast, where he began a 12-year career in architecture. His mother followed. Meanwhile, his brother, John, graduated from the University of Michigan with a business degree and now lives in San Francisco.

In 1993, Mr. Wong decided to start his own company. "It took five years to develop the Chinablue brand," he said of becoming the legal owner of the name. He launched a line of four sauces. Today the culinary line has 45 products with plans to develop more.

The Chinablue home is in the development stage with dinnerware and plateware. "I do all of the designing," he says. Mr. Wong has been approached about doing a television show.

He was in Philadelphia for the Book and the Cook annual event March 24 at which he joined chef-owner Margaret Kuo at her restaurant, Margaret Kuo's in Wayne, Pa. "It was south Cantonese cooking, regional-style Chinese dinner" with two seatings and a six-course meal, he said. "We spent two days in the kitchen."

Last weekend, he was on a book-signing tour with stops in Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron.

During the Churchill's food demonstration, he showed how to use his products, which include glazes, sauces, dressings, and oils. He adapted the Star Anise Cups recipe from the cookbook, substituting ground pork for ground turkey, adding cucumber, and using peanuts flavored with Red Pepper Flakes sauce; the cooked mixture was served as an appetizer in endive leaves or as an entree with noodles tossed in peanut sauce.

Then he fried chicken wings and served them with Sweet Soy Sauce; in the cookbook the version is Spicy Grilled Chicken Wings. A green salad garnished with blue cheese and dried cranberries was dressed with Shanghai Splash.

His Modern Asian Flavors cookbook features from-scratch recipes in the Shanghai style. "The Shanghai style lends itself to the way Americans eat," Mr. Wong said. For example, Barbecued Pork Short Ribs are paired with a Sweet Scallion Sauce. "It's a classic recipe.

"The premise of the cookbook is to introduce flavors. It's not a Chinablue infomercial," he said. "Shanghai had very diversified eating from cucumber to curries to anise. There was also a Western flavor profile. They served fava beans with a Sweet Scallion Sauce. It was Eurasian in palate pre-1945 - before the revolution."

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