Taste: New and Noteworthy: Ducking Out
At the end of this month, when Joseph Poon Asian Fusion Restaurant closes its doors for good, its owner, chef and namesake won’t flee to the suburbs. He won’t retire to Florida. Or even spend a week in Sea Isle. As the tireless Joseph Poon, 58, puts it, “I haven’t had vacation in 58 years, so why start now? Too much work to do. Busy, busy, busy.”
The restaurant, which opened in 1997, will lose its lease on September 30th due to a dispute with the landlord, whose son, Poon says, plans to open his own restaurant in the space. “He will fail,” promises Poon. “They don’t have love for Chinatown like I do. If they did, I wouldn’t be kicked out.”
It’s not the first time Poon’s Chinatown ship has sunk in a cloud of misanthropy: He’s lost three other restaurants, including still-thriving Sang Kee Peking Duck House and defunct Joe’s Peking Duck House, after fallouts with his partners. All this might discourage a lesser person. But Poon, who has charmed Jay Leno’s and Ellen DeGeneres’s audiences with his combination of a never-ending smile, animals carved from fruits, and a cult-like array of silly clichéd mantras of the “Don’t worry, be happy” ilk, isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
By the time you read this, he will have taken his first group on a culinary tour of Asia, visiting Hong Kong, Xi’an, Beijing and Macau, tasting and learning how to prepare the indigenous foods of each area. He’ll also continue to offer his Wok ’n’ Walk tours of Philly’s Chinatown, which include stops at an Asian grocer, an herbalist and a Buddhist temple. And soon, though he hasn’t found a location yet, he plans to open a cooking school, where he will offer classes like Dim Sum 101 to high-school students, retirees, and corporate suits looking for teamwork experiences.
As for his future in the restaurant business, Poon says he might be interested in starting a duck-house franchise (“only if good people involved”), but would rather go with a VIP-only restaurant that’s open a couple of nights a week. And if you’re expecting a large menu, don’t, says the chef. “When you open menu, it say you eat what chef wants to make. Take it or leave it!”