The team behind Williamsburg’s Win Son (159 Graham Ave.) is coming out with a cookbook. Co-owners of the popular Taiwanese-American eatery, Josh Ku and Trigg Brown, teamed up with James Beard Award-winning food writer, Cathy Erway, to create Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook.
The cookbook is an unapologetically dynamic collaboration of 100 flavorful recipes from Win Son, Win Son Bakery, and Cathy Erway, who authored The Food of Taiwan, the first Taiwanese cookbook published by a major outlet in the United States.
Josh Ku, co-owner of Win Son and Win Son Bakery, was born in Queens to Taiwanese parents, while Trigg Brown, co-owner and chef at Win Son, is a native Virginian who worked under Taiwanese-American chef Pei Chang, who introduced him to Taiwanese cuisine and encouraged him to advance his culinary talents.
Ku and Brown’s friendship blossomed from a shared obsession with Taiwanese cuisine and culture, and in 2016, they opened Win Son together. Ku oversees Win Son’s operations, while Brown is the chef, however, “both wear a lot of hats these days,” according to the pair.
Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook will be available to all on January 24. The following week, on Saturday, February 4 at 5 p.m., local bookstore and cafe, Archestratus (160 Huron St.), is hosting an event to promote the cookbook. Guests will get to meet Ku, Brown, and Erway and enjoy homemade snacks from the team.
Greenpointers spoke with the trio during a special Behind the Toque interview focused on Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook.
Greenpointers: Tell me how it all started. How did you all connect and come up with the idea for Win Son Presents: A Taiwanese American Cookbook?
Chef Trigg Brown: I was intern at Heritage Radio where Cathy worked, and the director of radio connected us, even before we opened Win Son.
Cathy Erway: I recall Trigg saying he wanted to write a book.
Chef Trigg Brown: I was an English major and admittedly a geek.
Cathy Erway: Geeking out on Taiwanese food is what he does. So, he said wanted to write a book, and I said that I know how to make that happen. I introduced him to an agent, and we decided to work together as a team.
Josh Ku: It wouldn’t have happened without you, Cathy, on so many levels.
Chef Trigg Brown: Cathy explained that over time, goals change and that means that the book changes. When we opened Win Son, local press wanted to call us Taiwanese soul food or street food, but we were just a couple of dudes that went to Queens to get Taiwanese food. Josh and I were explaining ourselves a lot when we opened Win Son. Seven years in, we are in a crazy different place, but the original goal hasn’t changed.
Greenpointers: The book features a whooping 100 recipes. How did you decide which recipes to use?
Chef Trigg Brown: 100 recipes is a lot, but there are a lot of classic Taiwanese recipes. Most of the ones we used we have featured prominently on our menus. We wanted to cover everything that we do, and that was about 100 recipes. Plus, there were sauces that could be recipes themselves or in glossary section. Cathy was elemental in organizing the book.
Cathy Erway: The first half of our conversations were discussions of what to include. We put a lot of thought into the dishes. We included all of the hits from Win Son. I was encouraging them to include some of my favorites.
Greenpointers: Speaking of playing favorites, are there certain recipes that you are most proud of?
Chef Trigg Brown: The scallion pancakes! I tried to make them for so long and was never happy with them. During the pandemic, the person I purchased them from raised the price and that forced me to push that recipe testing onto our team. Our recipe has an emphasis on technique. Our pancakes never use a rolling pin. It’s a matter of shaping the pancakes, which everyone does that more or less the same, but there are a few tricks. The method of shaping the pancakes that we do is more unique. It protects the dough from being overworked. That was a lightbulb moment for me when I was learning that, and I’m personally proud of that.
Josh Ku: I also want to say the scallion pancake because I like the story and method.
Another reason that the scallion pancakes are my favorite is because you can use them with a lot of different things. They are bread and universal.
Another recipe I want to mention, which is my favorite dish at Win Son, is tsang ying tou, or flies’ head. It is a classic Taiwanese dish with chopped budding chives and pork fat. It’s not the most popular dish at Win Son, but it’s up there. People who like it come back for it.
Cathy Erway: If you know Taiwanese food, you know the dish. But, when reading it on the menu, it sounds like a pile of chives.
Chef Trigg Brown: We’ll get people that complain that there is not enough pork. But in my opinion, it’s a vegetable dish, and the pork seasons it.
Greenpointers: Does the book contain mostly difficult recipes, geared toward those more experienced in the kitchen?
Josh Ku: The better question would be how difficult it is to get the ingredients. That’s where I think the difficulty comes in. We try to offer substitutes without compromising the recipes.
Chef Trigg Brown: You can’t go to Whole Foods and get just any chives. You have to go to an Asian grocery store. Some things you can compromise on and some you can’t. We provide online retail options.
Cathy Erway: The recipes have a good mix of skill levels. With some, you can go hard and make dumplings and buns with gel stock, and then there are noodles that can be stirred together in seconds. I love that Josh and Trigg provided suggestions on where to get stuff and substitutions.
Greenpointers: What aspect of the cookbook are you most proud of?
Josh Ku: I think it’s the macro and the fact that we were able to get to the finish line. It says a lot about our relationship. We got done what we needed to get done and did it with the same passion we started with.
Cathy Erway: I want to shout out Laura Murray, the book’s photographer.
Josh Ku: Can I steal Cathy’s answer?
Greenpointers: Archestratus mentioned snacks at their event on February 4. What goodies do you plan to serve?
Chef Trigg Brown: We haven’t mentally gotten there yet. We could do pastries, but I’m thinking about the dumplings that I smash down and cook on a griddle instead of a frying pan. We might do something like that.
Greenpointers: What are some of your favorite spots in North Brooklyn aside from Win Son?
Chef Trigg Brown: I go to Chez Ma Tante (90 Calyer St.) all the time. I love that restaurant deeply and passionately. I also love Peter Pan (727 Manhattan Ave.) and their old fashioned cake donut and the bacon, egg, and cheese on a sesame bagel. Kettl (70 Greenpoint Ave.) has great tea and cool people.