How do you cook good Asian food? This was a question that we really wanted answered as we worked our way through a recent Chinese unit. It became even more urgent as we realized that we were going to host a Chinese New Year party and had no idea how to make a good Chinese meal!
Fortunately, we knew where to go to find out. Pei Wei Asian Diner is one of our family's favorite places to go for dinner. The food is good, healthy, and comes at you fast, but the best part is the open concept kitchen. If you're lucky enough to sit at the bar/counter, you can watch the cooks preparing all of the food - and with the flames rising and the food flying, it makes quite the dinner show.
Fortunately for us, Pei Wei's general manager was up to the challenge of teaching us - and about 25 of our friends. We headed out to crash their restaurant during their prep time one morning before opening.
The general manager, or GM, greeted us in the dining room and explained the format of our tour. Because most foods are cooked to order, the kitchen is very small, and we toured in small groups and rotated through.
Our group started here in ordering line. We learned about their computer system, the menus, and what happens if you order to eat in vs taking your food away.
Then we moved to the back. In the kitchen, we learned that there are two dedicated tasks. This is the protein man. His job is to prep all of the protein for the day. While we visited, he was carefully cleaning chicken and cutting it into pieces that were the right size and shape for stir-frying.
There's also a dedicated spring roll woman. She also makes the rangoons and won-tons. Each one has to be the precise size and weight so that it cooks properly in the time allowed. The way that she could eyeball this was amazing!
We also visited the walk-in refrigerator. We learned that all of the produce is brought in daily, except for weekends, and that very few items arrive frozen. As many things as possible are prepped daily for the freshest food possible.
After the tour, the GM generously asked what we wanted to see cooked - and then this man made it for us while we watched. They even added several dishes, saying that there were so many of us that we needed more food to sample. Then they brought us plates, chopsticks, cups, fortune cookies, and the works for us to have a mini-party.
By then Pei Wei was open for lunch and, after sampling lots of yummy dishes, we ordered our meals and settled in to eat. Everything we tried was fantastic and the crew couldn't have been more kind or generous.
We can't wait to go back to Pei Wei - and maybe our own Asian cooking will be just a bit better from now on.