Pechanga Resort Casino announces Bobby Cheng as its new head chef of Blazing Noodles, one of 13 restaurants inside the west coast’s largest resort/casino. Cheng isn’t a stranger to the bustling restaurant that serves more than 2,000 each week. He spent three years overseeing the “front of house.” He managed servers, bussers, restaurant hosts, helped guests arrange special menu items and ensured Blazing Noodles seamlessly served quality and excellent customer service starting in the mid-morning hours until 2:30 or 3 a.m. each day. Now, Bobby turns his attentions to the busy eatery’s kitchen where he has already injected more excitement and updates to the popular dishes, as well as hints of his Chinese grandmother’s old world, intense flavors in cooking.
Cheng started out working in restaurants “from about the time I was old enough to peel shrimp,” he says. His parents opened a number of Chinese restaurants Philadelphia’s Chinatown in and Atlantic City when he was young. “We moved around a lot, maybe eight or nine times as a kid, and each time it was so my parents could get my sister and me to a better neighborhood. They opened four restaurants over the course of our moves.”
And it was in those restaurants Bobby saw firsthand all aspects of running a successful dining operation. When three o’clock rolled around during his high school days, Bobby went to the restaurant to work the counter and take phone orders. It was like getting an early degree in restaurant management.
“When I graduated college, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I did know the restaurant and hospitality industry and since we lived in Atlantic City, I ended up working restaurant management at a casino there for about six months.”
The sprawling Foxwoods Casino about five hours away hired one of Cheng’s friends. That friend called him up and encouraged him to apply for a management job at a fine-dining Asian restaurant at the resort. “Transitions are scary, but I like to see them as opportunities.”
He accepted the job and moved north to Connecticut. When Pechanga Resort Casino, this time 2,935 miles away, came calling, Cheng once again saw the move as an opportunity for increased professional and personal growth. He was hired as Blazing Noodles’ manager. By now, he was 24.
Today, he is 27. Asked why he wanted to make the big jump from the front of the restaurant to the “heart” of the restaurant, he says, “I’ve always wanted to make Asian food how I grew up with its flavors, essences, and have a team around me who are involved in creating great things and have the passion and enjoy what we do.”
“I love (and he emphasizes love) classic American Asian food. The authentic dishes I remember from my childhood, it’s so exciting to use ingredients from your local area and adapt them to where you are. That’s the beauty of food I think. It’s got its variances from region to region in China or Japan or Malaysia, but also in America. Chinese food will taste different in Atlantic City than it does in San Francisco and different again in Seattle or Chicago.”
Cheng claims a big affinity to cooking food and the experience that comes with it. Recalling family dinners, he says people’s minds, bodies and souls are fed all at the same time. “That’s what it was like at my house a lot of the time. My favorite dish from back then was my grandma’s soy sauce scallion chicken wings. She’d make it for family gatherings. She was a constant in my life and taught me some important things about cooking. But she never let me in her kitchen.”