MáLà Project (603 Manhattan Ave.), a small chain of Chinese restaurants with three locations in Manhattan, will cross the East River to Greenpoint this year. MáLà Project is known for its dry pot, but the menu also features a variety of Chinese dishes. The first Brooklyn location is projected to open in September or October.
Co-founder and owner of MáLà Project, Amelie Kang, missed the cuisine from her hometown in China and is excited to bring dry pot to Brooklyn.
Greenpointers spoke with the young restaurateur about her childhood, her experience breaking into the food industry and her favorite spots in Greenpoint.
Greenpointers: Have you always wanted to be in the food industry?
Amelie Kang: When I was little, my grandma said I always talked about wanting to be a food critic. Lots of members of my family are good cooks. I grew up loving to eat and had a romantic relationship with food. We always went to my grandma’s house for her food. But I didn’t learn to cook until I studied at the Culinary Institute of America.
Greenpointers: Tell us about the journey that led you to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.
Kang: I grew up two hours south of Beijing and then moved there for high school. While in high school, I was searching for culinary schools. I wanted to get a bachelor’s degree studying culinary arts. I loved the idea of not having to sit in an office. We didn’t have that type of school in China, so I looked at schools in the United States.
The CIA requires six months of work experience. So, while I was still in high school in Beijing, I worked at a French cafe. It was thrilling.
Greenpointers: Did working in a French cafe instill a love for French food or do you have another favorite type of cuisine?
Kang: It depends on my mood. Recently, I’ve been eating dry pot. When I was on a keto diet, I would eat fried chicken a lot. When I want carbs, I eat Chinese stir fry or fried rice.
The classes at the CIA did teach French techniques. The Asian side of classes were not developed. Chinese cooking is complicated and intimidating.
Greenpointers: You opened your first restaurant at the age of twenty-three. How did it feel to break into the food industry at such a young age?
Kang: I was twenty-three and did not have a lot of experience. I had to learn from my mistakes. The good part about that was that we were able to do things that felt right. I went with a gut feeling.
For example, I didn’t even know brokers existed to find restaurant space. My partner and I walked up and down streets in January of 2014.
There are not a lot of young Chinese restaurant owners. Diversity was starting to happen in 2014 but was not prominent yet. Now there is a growing community, and it’s pretty exciting.
Greenpointers: What do you recommend first-timers should order at MáLà Project?
Kang: Definitely order the dry pot because is an experience. For customers that come everyday, they probably don’t want dry pot all that often, so I’d recommend the fried chicken. It is very popular. Some come in and order peanuts and a cocktail. All of the Dim Sums are very good. It’s actually very easy to make your way around the entire menu.
Greenpointers: Will the Greenpoint location have any unique features?
Kang: Yes! Greenpoint will be different and have new menu items and new design features. We are planning unique and special dishes for Greenpoint, but I can’t share what they are just yet.
Design will be a big component of the new location. The design firm Love is Enough is creating something distinctive for Greenpoint to reflect the neighborhood.
Greenpointers: How did you decide on the Greenpoint neighborhood for your first spot in Brooklyn?
Kang: We looked everywhere from Williamsburg to Prospect Heights. We wanted to be in a neighborhood with a lot of life, not a quiet area that was dead during the week.
I’ve always loved Manhattan Avenue and spots like Greenpoint Fish and Lobster (114 Nassau Ave.). I also like Greenpoint’s diversity. I like that there are a lot of Polish restaurants.
The storefront that is going to be MáLà Project used to be a butcher shop which was there for decades. When I went to see the space, there was a Polish gentleman doing construction there himself. I fell in love with him.
Greenpointers: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Greenpoint?