“When we were kids, we always spent the weekends at my grandparents’ house," says Nicholas Tang. "It was like one big family meal.”
Chef Nicholas Tang of DBGB is tall and gangly, with friendly eyes that light up whenever he speaks of Singapore and his childhood there.
“We were always given tasks to help out around the house and kitchen," he said. "I would be the one hanging out with my grandmother learning how to roll glutinous rice balls or how to make stewed pork.”
Those formative years in the kitchen did more than leave a lasting memory in Chef Tang’s past. They shaped his future. As was part of his Singaporean duty, he served for two years in the Singapore navy after completing an undergraduate degree in sports management. After that, he could no longer ignore the call of the kitchen.
Chef Tang pursued a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in London, where he shone with French technique and pastry. From then on, it was a quick path to some of the world’s top restaurants in London and in Singapore.
In 2010, his career path led him to the DB Bistro Moderne in Singapore’s famous Marina Bay Sands (yes, the building with the “boat” on top). He continued to be a part of the Boulud culinary family, working in New York and settling last year in D.C. at DBGB.
“Daniel gives me the freedom to put my Asian influence on our menus," Tang says of his leader and mentor, Daniel Boulud.
“Last year, there was a duck dish we did in New York, and Daniel asked me to make it an Asian-style duck," says Tang. "So, I made a duck confit XO sauce with shallots, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. It was French technique using Asian ingredients.”
Chef Tang has the most fun in the kitchen when he can incorporate flavors of his past into his present skill work.
“I love using ginger, which is normally not found in French cuisine," he says.
And he’s definitely not shy about incorporating his family recipes into the mix.
“Grandma’s wontons” Chef Tang blissfully recounts. “Her wontons really stuck with me. I mean, who can resist a fried wonton?”
The answer is nobody. Especially when the wontons are a result of Chef Tang’s grandmother’s simple, but delightful, recipe.
“It’s easy to make at home, because you can use just about any ingredient mix,” says Tang. “We make them at home almost every week, using minced pork with whatever veggies are in season.”
Recently, Chef Tang wowed D.C. diners with his rendition of grandma’s wontons along with another one of his favorites, black pepper crab, in honor of Singapore’s National Day.
While serving up his stunning original recipe of the black pepper crab, a diner joked that Chef Tang should start a food truck filled with Singaporean delicacies. Chef Tang responded quite seriously to say if it were ever a reality, his food truck would serve Hainanese chicken rice.
“It’s my favorite dish," he says. "If the stall in Singapore can get a Michelin star serving nothing but chicken rice, I don’t see why just having one dish on the menu here can’t get you recognition.”
See below for Grandma Tang's wonton recipe
Chef Nicholas Tang's Singapore Black Pepper Crab recipe