Rachelle Liu and Kathleen Chen
Chifa: From Fashion to Food, Humberto Leon brings Chinese-Peruvian Cuisine to Southern California
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Opening in the thick of the pandemic, Chifa in Eagle Rock brings unique Chinese-Peruvian cuisine to Southern California. Hailing originally from Peru, founder of Chifa Humberto Leon is the co-founder of the fashion retailer Opening Ceremony and previous creative director at Kenzo. Now, he’s reviving his mother’s restaurant and fulfilling a lifelong dream by sharing his family’s thoughtful and intuitive homestyle cooking with the world.
Chifa, while a new restaurant to Southern California, is not really “new.” In 1975, Humberto’s mother Wendy Leon opened the original Chifa in Lima, Peru and operated it for two years. Humberto shares, “ was the year I was born, so she talks about how I was sleeping on a rice bag in the kitchen while she was starting the restaurant.” In 1977, Wendy gave up the original Chifa as Humberto’s family packed up and immigrated to Highland Park. Now, 45 years later, Humberto has reopened Chifa with his sister Ricardina Leon and brother-in-law John Liu at the helm. To be opening in Eagle Rock next to Highland Park is a very full circle moment, and Humberto describes it as “super fun, exciting, and everything we could have dreamed of.”
Humberto’s mom is from Hong Kong, and his dad is from Peru, resulting in a unique mix of multi racial food in their household. At Chifa, Humberto is sharing the food he grew up eating while putting a modern and healthy twist on traditional dishes not normally found in restaurants. He shares, “At Chifa we really just wanted to bring homestyle cooking, and I know people use that term quite often but we’re quite serious in the fact that when we cook food at home it’s always meant to be somewhat light and healthy, and only with good ingredients, so we really want to bring the same principle back.” He describes it as very instinctive cooking, like with Chifa’s Popo’s Wellness Soup, which is “like a Chinese mom basically saying ‘Hey today the weather is dry, we need to make a soup that reflects that.’”, or that “my sister just had a baby and we need to cook the ginger and pork feet.” At the original Chifa, Wendy had a char siu, and Chef John Liu is continuing the tradition in the form of their Brûlée Char Siu, using a dye free char siu sauce they make from scratch. The char siu is cooked on a wood fired grill, resulting in a one of a kind hickory wood aftertaste, giving it a unique “sensibility and flavoring.” Also notable, their Pollo Ala Brasa which is also cooked over the wood fired grill. Humberto also focuses on elevating classic dishes. His family has always complained that zong zi, a lotus wrapped sticky rice, traditionally has too high of a rice to filling ratio. At Chifa, Humberto’s mom Wendy makes a zong zi using a mixture of black and white sticky rice and mixes shiitake mushrooms throughout the rice, ensuring that you get “goodness throughout every bite.”
While Humberto’s transition from fashion to food might be surprising for some, Humberto says that his work is actually not all that different. He says, “Anybody who knows me knows that I’ve always pulled food into everything I do because I feel like what I did, even at Opening Ceremony and at Kenzo, has been fostering these conversations. And there’s nothing better at fostering conversations than food. So food isn’t necessarily out of the question, but it’s been super exciting and fun to really dive into it and bring some of the principles that I have in my work.” A main principle is Humberto’s heart for collaboration, something apparent in all aspects of Chifa. Humberto collaborated with Lexie Park of Eat Nünchi to bring us the coveted Nünchi’s Almond Jelly, a tofu almond jello shaped like corn. He also worked with the Butcher Girls to create a three day aged Chinese Lap Cheung made from scratch.
Humberto first acquired the space for Chifa two years ago, and with the timing of and construction, the restaurant was ready to open doors in the thick of the pandemic. Because they knew what they were getting themselves into, Humberto and his family have tried their best to adjust their business model and roll with the punches. He says, “Covid is keeping us on our toes and we aren’t able to do all the things we want to do. We’re making the most of it, and still fully putting it together and showing people what it could look like.” While we are disappointed not to be able to enjoy Chifa’s beautiful dining space currently, it is something we can look forward to in the future. Humberto says, “Really for me it’s a platform to really exercise conversation and work with great people. Giving guests a taste of this home cooking that all our friends love and being able to share that with the public has been super exciting and experiential.”
Address: 4374 Eagle Rock Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041
For reservations, please call (323) 561-3084
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