A native of Peru, Irvin Van Oordt grew up eating beef not only from famed Argentine cattle but also from old dairy cows, those bovine beasts of burden that in the United States produce mostly milk, not meat. Van Oordt is betting diners at Tiger Fork, the chef-driven dim sum stop set to open next month in Blagden Alley, will love old dairy cow beef just as much as he does.
“Any beef that you get at the market [in Peru], it's going to be old dairy cow meat,” says Van Oordt, who will lead the kitchen at Tiger Fork along with chef Nathan Beauchamp, one of the Fainting Goat principals behind the new project.
The meat “has so much flavor and intense umami-ness, you know? It's something that people are not used to, but we can introduce them to that. I think they're going to fall in love with that,” Van Oordt continues.
As executive chef of Tiger Fork, Van Oordt plans to use old dairy cow meat in a number of dishes, including beef tongue with XO sauce. Aside from flavor, the chef believes the meat is simply “more responsible and more sustainable” than other sources of beef.
Van Oordt's interest in Asian cooking started not long after his family moved from Peru to Rockville when he was nine years old. He explored the dining options along Rockville Pike: Sichuan Jin River, A&J Restaurant, Maria's Bakery & Cafe, the now shuttered Bob's Noodle 66 and others. He returned to Peru to attend culinary school but, post-graduation, headed to Singapore, where he landed a job at 2 am: lab, the research and development arm of chef Janice Wong's acclaimed 2 am: dessertbar. While Van Oordt was there, Wong collaborated on a dim sum cookbook that required the team to make frequent trips to Hong Kong to promote the tome. Hong Kong was something of a revelation to the young cook.
“Hong Kong is like East meets West,” Van Oordt says. “Think about New York but think about New York on steroids.”
Van Oordt has followed a time-honored tradition among chefs: Learn from as many masters as you can before assuming your own kitchen. Van Oordt has worked not only under Wong in Singapore, but also under Virgilio Martinez at the Michelin-starred Central in Lima and Daniel Clifford at the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge, England. In the District, Van Oordt has worked for José Andrés at minibar and Johnny Spero at the short-lived Suna.
Since taking the gig at Tiger Fork, scheduled to open in early February in the former Rogue 24 space, Van Oordt has been furthering his education in Hong Kong cooking. He's returned to Rockville and made trips to New York to study the art and science of dough making for Hong Kong buns, dumplings and other dim sum dishes. (The Tiger Fork team has been working with Lumos, a Manhattan bar specializing in cocktails made with the high-proof Chinese spirit baijiu, and a certified Chinese medicine specialist to develop a drinks menu that provides medicinal benefits — other than drunkenness, one presumes.)
But Van Oordt says Tiger Fork won't be a Hong Kong dim sum house with a slavish devotion to tradition. It will draw from numerous Chinese provincial cuisines, including Sichuan. It may even borrow from Chinese-Muslim cooking traditions, found in many major Chinese cities.
“We don't want to get boxed in,” Van Oordt says. “When you think about what dim sum is, dim sum is small Chinese plates . . . If you think about that concept, you can do a lot of things.”
Tiger Fork opens in early February at 922 N. St. NW in the Blagden Alley.
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