Meet Two of Brentwood’s Top Chefs
Chef Kwanming Lo, Fulin’s Asian Cuisine
Most days for chef Kwanming Lo revolve around following his favorite routines, such as driving his well-aged, beloved truck to work; meeting his “crew” every morning at Hardee’s at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast and important, worldly conversations; cooking in or managing the kitchen at Fulin’s Asian Cuisine restaurant until 10 or 11 p.m.; and then playing Ping-Pong at the recreation center on Sundays.
As a self-taught Cantonese chef who used to live in Hong Kong, Kwanming moved to the United States in 1976 and formerly owned his own Chinese restaurant about a mile away from Fulin’s. He and his regular customers shifted over to the Shoppes of Brentwood when Fulin’s opened there in 2005 at 782 Old Hickory Blvd. He’s been creating Chinese culinary delights at Fulin’s ever since day one—for the past 12 years, to be exact.
Kwanming’s favorite Asian meal to prepare is roast duck, and likewise, his preferred Asian foods to eat are all duck dishes.
He got started with cooking because he wanted to learn a business, then became passionate about the intricacies of food preparation.
“There are so many tiny pieces to good cooking and even many varieties within Chinese—there’s Cantonese, Szechuan, Hunan and Yue,” he says. “There was a lot to learn.”
Kwanming seems to embody the fact that Chinese food is an integral part of Chinese culture. Although he’s quite an accomplished chef, he’s never had a cooking class. He still enjoys studying food and the journeys that his self-teaching takes him on.
Brandon Lin, owner of the Brentwood Fulin’s restaurant, says “Mr. Lo” is a humble man, but is involved in every part of the restaurant’s foundation. The restaurant staff is a superb example of teamwork and perseverance. In fact, Lin’s father, David Lin, who launched the Fulin’s chain of what is now 11 restaurants, was a hopeful migrant in the late 1980s after being a teacher in a small Fujian Province village on the coast of the South China Sea who says he became disillusioned and disheartened after the Chinese government’s forceful crackdown on the student-led, pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests. Dreaming of a better way of life, David legally immigrated to America in 1993, settling in New York City. There, he found work in Chinese and Italian restaurants, washing dishes and helping in the kitchen, while learning as much as he could about cooking, cuisine, serving customers and operating restaurants.
In 1999, David moved from New York to the Nashville area and got a job as a server in a Chinese buffet. His family joined him in the U.S. in 2000. Afterward, David managed a number of new Chinese Buffet and Grills across middle Tennessee, until launching his own vision for popular Chinese-Japanese buffet food offerings.
Why do you think sushi is increasingly popular in the United States?
“Americans seem fascinated with sushi! I believe it has to do with how fresh sushi looks, compared to other types of food,” Kwanming says. “It’s also low in fat, high in protein and enticing to the eyes. Therefore, it looks good and it feels good, from a healthy diet perspective.”
How does it make you feel to prepare meals enjoyed by so many people?
“It makes feel me wonderful to prepare meals enjoyed by many different people–like I’ve done something good,” Kwanming says.
What is your approach to life, and how does food/meals fit into life?
“Running a real Chinese kitchen is becoming a lost art. It is still very traditional, if done properly, and takes a couple of years to learn all of its sophisticated parts,” Kwanming says. “Cooking is my balance, a part of everything I do in life. It keeps me moving, working my whole body for exercise, while also accomplishing something important every day. What we put into our bodies affects our health, so it’s important to keep moving and to keep eating good food.”
Executive Chef Christopher Smithing, Mére Bulles
To exceed diners’ expectations is the unwavering goal of Mére Bulles executive chef Christopher Smithing and his kitchen team at 5201 Maryland Way in Brentwood. This culinary artist creates food that looks and tastes amazing.
As a chef with a Southern flair background, combined with a make-it-happen attitude, Smithing didn’t attend any formal schooling for cooking.
“I watched the talented people around me and listened to what they had to tell me,” he says. “On some level, I have always been in a restaurant kitchen. I started as a dishwasher, moved to fry cook, and ended up at Green Hills Grille as a broil cook. It was at Green Hills Grille that I started tuning my fork toward a full-time cooking career.”
Smithing now has been at Mére Bulles for the last nine years. Restaurateur and owner Steven Smithing, Christopher’s brother, tackles both Green Hills Grille in Nashville and Mére Bulles. Surrounded by majestic old maple trees and a rich history of the restaurant’s namesake — Mother Bubbles, who was the French grandmother of the original owner—Mére Bulles provides a complimentary, beautiful ambiance for Christopher’s cookery. In June 2000, Mére Bulles moved a few miles south of downtown Nashville to Maryland Manor, a historical plantation-style farmhouse and former estate home in Brentwood.
Although he indicates he doesn’t dwell in the dessert arena, he’s come up with a different twist on creme brûlée.
“It’s amazing the flavors you can get out of such a small dish,” he says.
When he isn’t in the kitchen, he can be found at his family’s lake house, sitting on a porch, relaxing with a cup of coffee or listening to NPR. He says he wishes he had more time to do “anything daughter-related.”
How do you create a menu for what’s called a “new-old Southern dining experience” at the restaurant?
“Anymore, dining is a mix of all flavor profiles. I really just focus on the center of the plate and try to think about what guests might enjoy,” he says. “Then I let the staff taste everything, and am open to suggestions. They can be pretty honest sometimes, but the end result is what is really important.”
What’s the secret appeal of shrimp and grits?
“We have two executions of shrimp and grits at Mére Bulles,” he says. “Our lunch shrimp and grits is more Southern style, with chipotle cheddar fried grits and a Cajun cream sauce, where dinner is more of a classic style with goat cheese grits and country ham cream sauce with a julienned spinach salad. I prefer the lunch shrimp and grits better.”
Any guilty pleasure TV shows?
“I much prefer sitting on my back porch talking with my wife than watching any TV,” he says. “People tend not to talk when watching TV, and I believe in being completely open and available to my family when I can.”