Emily Chan of JenChan's
All photos courtesy of JenChan’s

Resy QuestionnaireAtlanta

20 Questions with JenChan’s Emily Chan


In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?

In this edition, we spoke to Emily Chan, one half (or third, if you count their adorable CFO) of the duo behind the flavor-bending, “pizza and Chinese” Cabbagetown favorite, JenChan’s.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

Any new recipe is my favorite recipe. Especially if it’s something I’ve never tried before and/or never heard of, or something we are testing. We do a lot of experimentation, so my first go at a new thing is usually my favorite, and I am so often blown away by the simplest recipes that are so transformative to an ingredient. Also, duck any way.

The coco curry noodles at JenChan's
The coco curry noodles at JenChan’s.
The coco curry noodles at JenChan's
The coco curry noodles at JenChan’s.

2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?

My Vitamix.

3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?

Rice, flour, vegetable oil, any kind of onion, and wine (in case I get bored. And maybe for cooking).

4. What’s your favorite place to get barbecue in Atlanta?

We are suckers for Fox Bros. Their consistency, flavor, and service are always great.

5. Favorite cookbook?

Classic Chinese Cookbook,” by Yan-kit So, “The Food Lab,” by J. Kenji López-Alt, and “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” by Samin Nosrat. Also, “The Food Lover’s Companion,” by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

6. Your drink of choice?

The one I enjoy after work. Or the coffee I enjoy right before.

7. Favorite food movie?

“The Menu” was a delight.

8. Your ideal dinner party guest, dead or alive? 

Andrew Zimmern; just seems like a lovely human and an incredibly talented chef.

9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?

I think all the folks from the Giving Kitchen deserve some serious love. Jen Hidinger-Kendrick and her late husband Ryan Hidinger founded this amazing organization that provides emergency assistance for food service workers through financial support. We have an employee who was in a coma for the better half of last year, and Giving Kitchen has helped them in so many ways. Now [they’re] back at work and [were] recently given a promotion. It could have gone so differently without their support.

“Anything long-lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender” – Ryan Hidinger.

10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?

I think my career at the Owl Café in Apalachicola, FL in my twenties was my greatest experience. The original owners have since moved on to other concepts. I started there as a server but learned everything I possibly could during the time I was there, from the front of house, back of house, all the way to management — that only happened because the owners were so intensely involved, and the place was so cared for. This wasn’t corporate or cookie-cutter, it was a personal and passionate endeavor on their part, and I tried to take it as seriously as I could (for a twenty-something-year-old). Learned a lot and owe them a lot for that knowledge.

11. Your greatest professional achievement?

Getting insight from my employees. Which ultimately means learning from my mistakes and trying not to make them again. I think they have taught me more than anything. I’m not good at managing people; it is incredibly difficult to invest so much energy into operating the logistics of the physical-ness of the restaurant itself and still give equal investment in the people who are so integral to that production to begin with — that is the learning curve.

So, I am grateful for the folks along the way who have been tough with me, those who walked away, those who stayed, those who put me in my place. All of them.

Mongolian beef pizza at JenChan's
The Mongolian beef pizza.
Mongolian beef pizza at JenChan's
The Mongolian beef pizza.

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

Our Mongolian beef pizza.

13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?

I would go back and eat at my dad’s restaurant, Eric’s Texas Café in the mid 80’s. I lost my dad earlier this year and in looking back, I wish I could have been old enough to order off the menu properly as a child. I have enjoyed his cooking my whole life but during the tenure of this restaurant, I was quite young. I always just got the kitchen to make me WAY too many grilled cheese sandwiches for one human to consume at once; it was almost a contest to see how many I could get down.

It would be nice if I could somehow revisit that space as an adult and order off the menu; to relive the vibrancy, noise, crowds, and music that I remember from childhood. It was this giant space in my memory (and was indeed, as it had a life-sized windmill inside) but I never got to fully appreciate it.

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

Not a meal at all, but when I learned how to prepare chocolate pudding from a box, it was kind of a big deal to me. I would never wait for it to cool all the way and would scorch my tongue on it, but I loved the hot, barely set pudding. But for “real” food: my mama’s pot roast and my dad’s æbleskiver.

15. What is your wish for the restaurant industry?

As a restaurant owner, I have spent a lot of time working out a way to pay all staff equally and I still come up short; tipped wages versus kitchen and how to break that system. It is difficult. It is hard enough to stay open with such small margins. So many hours, so much sacrifice across the board. I don’t think the consumer is willing to pay, or is able to afford, what it actually costs to prepare and serve that fried rice that hits your table.

Emily, Mik, and Jen Chan
Emily (left) and Jen (right) Chan with their son Mik.
Emily, Mik, and Jen Chan
Emily (left) and Jen (right) Chan with their son Mik.

16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?

Plating is a weakness for me. Flavor is a strength. I see a lot of incredibly plated dishes out there and although I have an art degree, mine typically feel contrived.

17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?

Madrid, again and again.

18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?

Oysters and offal.

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

The people seated at the table define the restaurant, so if the folks working at that restaurant are passionate about wanting to know who the people seated at the restaurant are, you have a win: the service and the plates will always be the best they can be.

20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?

Damn good pizza.


Noëmie Carrant is Resy’s senior writer. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.