In less than 20 years of living and working here, Tony Hu has managed to cement a place for himself in Chicago’s food and cultural scene far beyond Chinatown. (Besides his mad culinary skills, we’re guessing his boyish good looks and affable, humble, open-armed attitude toward everyone he meets probably have something to do with it.) He’s been interviewed in countless media outlets in the United States and abroad, and he and his fantastic food are synonymous with Chinatown cuisine — but they also appear at numerous charity and tasting events around the city.
Considering his widespread success in Chicago, we know there’s probably a “Hu’s on first” joke in here somewhere, but there’s too much to say about the e so-called unofficial mayor of Chinatown to dwell on the forced humor. So without further ado or attempts at verbal-confusion humor, here are six things you may not know about Tony Hu:
He’s got chops. Hu is a graduate of China’s first culinary school, the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, founded in 1985 and operated by the Chinese government. He finished school just four years after it opened and moved to the United States in 1993.
He’s democratic. Though he hails from the Sichuan region of China, he’s opened restaurants focusing on four regional cuisines: Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing and Shanghai.
He cares about his culture. He’s president of the Chinese American Association of Greater Chicago, a nonprofit working to promote cultural, educational and economic opportunities for Chinese-Americans, strengthen the relationship between the United States and China, and foster multicultural friendships in Chicagoland.
He rolls with the big boys. Chicago Magazine has named Tony Hu among the most influential figures in town, giving him the #96 spot on its “100 Most Powerful Chicagoans” list in March 2012.
He stirs controversy. In fall 2011, Hu claimed to have opened the first truly authentic Hunan restaurant in Chicago, but in doing so, he offended more than a few folks, Chinese and otherwise, by displaying images of Mao Zedong displayed prominently on the restaurant’s sign and factored into the interior design.
He’s expanding his empire. Hu’s massively successful Lao Sze Chuan (a favorite stop on the Chicago Food Planet Chinatown tour) has two branches outside Chinatown: one in Downers Grove and another in Milford, Conn.