New Times: What's the deal with the whole chopstick thing?
Joshua Marcus: My thought process, at first, was, Oh, well, I have a really small restaurant, and chopsticks come in really large boxes. But then I started thinking. From a very young age, people are trained to put squares in squares and circles in circles. And they do the exact thing with food too, so everyone thinks Chinese food needs to be eaten with chopsticks.
The truth is for this food, it just doesn't make sense.
I grill and roast all my proteins [and they are sizable, whole pieces], so there isn't a single bite-size piece of anything. So why use chopsticks if you're going to need a knife anyway? On top of that, my dumplings are twice the size of regular dumplings, so how are you going to eat them? You can't just put them in your mouth; you need a fork and knife to eat them.
The other part is that I really have this weird communion with trees. During the 2008 Chinese Olympics, it was made perfectly clear to me that clear-cutting forests in China, Thailand, and Vietnam is just not right.
[Any diner walking into Chow Down Grill can't help but notice there is a huge silver tree painted on the wall. And by sheer chance, Josh took the time to flash us his new ink -- the beginning of a tree tattoo on both of his forearms.]
Well, how about plastic chopsticks?
I've worked in places that use the plastic chopsticks, and they are just gross. People bite into them, then they get reused, and then someone else bites into them, and so on... They are the farthest thing from hygienic. Also, they are slippery.
Yep, you're right. Wet noodles and plastic chopsticks don't mix.
Chinese cuisine is a 5,000-year-old cuisine that hasn't changed; although it hasn't changed for a reason. Chopsticks were created as a dining utensil intended to conserve gas and power. In today's time, the same reasoning doesn't make sense. It's an antiquated dining system.
But you're still a Chinese restaurant. Antiquated or not, chopsticks are part of it.
I'll never deny my hypocrisy. I do have a communion with trees, but at the same time I use plastic bags. That's a hypocrisy right there, but you have to pick your battles, and I choose chopsticks.
If someone says to you they want chopsticks, what are you going to say?
"We don't have any." I never realized the fascination people have with chopsticks and what an uproar it would cause. But if guests come in, I'll tell them: "If you bring them the next time, I'll hold them for you."
So if you plan to give Chow Down Grill a shot and you're adamant about your sticks, keep them in your glove compartment, stick them in your purse, or make them out of straws. Just don't ask for them, and don't bother causing a stink about it. It's not going to make a difference. At the end of the day, Chow Down Grill is about Josh's food, and how he wants to do things. And if he feels like making a statement about clear-cutting forests, diners need to cut him some slack because it certainly is a noble cause. Chopstick Nazi? We think not.