Noodle Like a Pro

Louis Kao and Other East Bay Chefs Show
How to Stir the Pot

East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries
By Carolyn Jung
Figure 1 Publishing, September 2019

Wondering what East Bay chefs and food entrepreneurs are up to? Here’s a helpful guide along with a nice collection of dishes and drinks that can be prepared at home. In East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries by James Beard Award–winning writer Carolyn Jung, you’ll find the culinary diversity of the East Bay on display in 82 signature dishes from 54 of the region’s culinary tastemakers.

Among the many tempting recipes is a simple lamb larb from Belcampo, which is served over sticky rice with a heap of aromatic herbs. From Oaktown Spice, there’s an eggplant shakshuka featuring their harissa and an elote salad with Santa Fe chili powder and Omani black lemon. From Gather, comes a burrata, farro, and stone fruit salad starring whatever juicy, seasonal fruit you have on hand. And from Berkeley’s Local Butcher Shop, we get a recipe for some sweet, rich chocolate chip cookies made with their high-quality lard.

—Kristina Sepetys

The following is excerpted with permission from East Bay Cooks by Carolyn Jung, photography by Eva Kolenko:

Louis Kao: Noodle Theory

Few things in life are as all-out satisfying as a bountiful bowl of noodles. Louis Kao knows that. Over a decade ago, he also knew there was nowhere to really enjoy every kind of noodle all in one spot. To fill that gap, he opened Noodle Theory in Rockridge in 2007. With its array of noodle salads, soup noodles, and sautéed noodles, it was a success from the start—despite having only 23 seats.

A self-described “restaurant rat,” Kao practically grew up in Bay Area restaurant kitchens because his parents owned, at various times, Chinese restaurants, a 24-hour diner, a Fosters Freeze, a pizzeria, a taqueria, and even a hot dog joint. Helping out his family from a young age left him weary and wary, but after his dad retired, Kao realized how much he missed his father’s cooking and just how truly at home he felt in a bustling restaurant kitchen.

In 2015, he opened the larger Noodle Theory Provisions in Oakland, near the Emeryville border, and in 2018, another Noodle Theory in Moraga.

His inspiration comes from his family—the chicken with ginger noodles and peanuts is a riff on his father’s kung pao chicken. And from other restaurants—the soba noodle salad came about when he married his fondness for pears and cheese with pickled mushrooms he enjoyed at a tapas bar.

Not bad for someone who never imagined he’d end up owning his own restaurants.

“A bowl of noodles is always comfort,” Kao says. “I just want people to keep on slurping.”

Soba Noodle Salad with Pickled Shiitakes,
Chèvre, Toasted Cashews, and Asian Pears

Noodle Theory chef-owner Louis Kao prefers Yali or Chinese white pears for this chilled or room-temperature noodle dish, because other Asian pears are more watery. But other pears, even Bosc or D’Anjou, can be substituted.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish or first course

Pickled shiitakes
2½ ounces dried shiitake mushrooms (about 18 small)
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Ginger-soy vinaigrette
¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2½ teaspoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons finely grated ginger
¼ cup avocado oil or grapeseed oil

Noodle salad
6–8 ounces uncooked dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 large Asian pear or other variety of pear, peeled, cored, and cut into thin strips
3 ounces chèvre, crumbled
⅓ cup toasted cashews, coarsely chopped
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish
2 teaspoons thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Pickled shiitakes: In a large bowl, combine shiitakes and 2½ cups hot water. Place a plate on top of the mushrooms to keep them submerged and soak for 1 hour. Remove rehydrated mushrooms and reserve soaking liquid, discarding the bottom ¼ cup that contains the grit. Remove mushroom stems and discard. Using a knife or kitchen shears, thinly slice the caps. Place mushrooms in a saucepan with reserved soaking liquid. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate. (Pickled shiitakes can be stored in a covered container for 2 weeks. Use any leftovers to perk up vegetable or tofu salads or stir-fries.)

Ginger-soy vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl or mason jar. Mix or shake until sugar is dissolved. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Noodle salad: In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook soba noodles for 6 minutes or according to package directions, until just tender. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process and remove excess starch. Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Add pear, chèvre, cashews, as many pickled shiitakes as desired, salt, and 3 tablespoons vinaigrette. Mix gently to combine. Taste and add more vinaigrette, if necessary. Divide among serving bowls or plates and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

Excerpted with permission from East Bay Cooks by Carolyn Jung, photography by Eva Kolenko.