For Alex Feng, cooking and eating are some of his passions and have been for a long time. Prior to moving seven years ago to the United States from China, Feng worked as a tour guide in the Sichuan province, showing tourists the pandas the region is famous for, as well as Jiuzhaigou, a national park located in the north of Sichuan.
His experience of over ten years as a tour guide allowed him to meet a variety of people and understand how everyone’s tastes and preferences differ. He used this knowledge when crafting the noodle dishes to put on the menu at Mian, a Sichuan noodle restaurant that he opened a year ago with Tony Xu, owner of Chengdu Taste.
“The hardest thing was coming up with a single flavor that all will accept and that will attract all types of people. It’s impossible because people are different,” he explains. “You can’t rely on the traditional Sichuan flavor because some people can handle spicy and some people can’t.”
Feng moved to California because his wife, who he met in Chengdu, was already a citizen and had been living in the United States for over 20 years. When Chengdu Taste first opened four years ago, he really loved going there to eat because it reminded him of home. Because of his frequent visits, as well as the fact that he and Xu are both originally from Chengdu, the two became close friends.
Feng actually worked as a manager at Chengdu Taste for a couple months, which taught him the ins and outs of successfully running a restaurant. Feng and Xu decided to open Mian together after realizing that there was a lack of Sichuan noodle restaurants in the Los Angeles area.
“Providing my employees with jobs and having people understand Sichuan cuisine is what makes me happiest,” says Feng. “Now a lot of people know about Sichuan noodles because of Mian.”
Feng acknowledges that some of the restaurant’s success comes from Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic Jonathan Gold’s positive review of Mian’s famed zhajiang noodles. The restaurant’s popularity on social media, in addition to Xu’s success with Chengdu Taste, has attracted many visitors.
Feng first learned how to cook Sichuan noodles after taking informal cooking classes for a couple years from a friend that had opened a restaurant in Chengdu. He modified the typical Chengdu noodle recipe by combining what he had learned from his friend, his parents, and Xu with what he believed the American palette could handle.
His love for cooking usually keeps him in the kitchen alongside four other chefs, making the “secret recipe” sauce to go with Mian’s famous handmade noodles. “The biggest reason I opened this restaurant is because it’s my hobby,” Feng says. “My favorite part is cooking the noodles and making the sauce.”