On the Line: George Wu and Lawrence Tai of Waffles de Liege, Part One
|Photo by LP Hastings|
Friends either complement each other or tend to act like twins. For the guys of Waffles de Liege, it's somewhere in the middle, as you'll see in this week's luxe lonchera interview. We met for lunch on their day off and discussed the business -- like those requests for bean-and-cheese burritos?!
Your earliest food memory:
George Wu: The earliest would probably be when I got a huge fish bone stuck in my throat while eating at a Chinese restaurant. The waitress had to remove it with a pair of nail clippers. To this day, I am still paranoid when I eat boned fish.
For my earliest pleasant memory, it would have to be making scrambled eggs at sleepovers with childhood friends in the neighborhood. It was the first time I used paprika and probably the first time I prepared food.
Lawrence Tai: I don't have the best memory, but I think it would have to be dried, shredded squid snack. I was very young and on a flight to Taiwan with my family when my mom passed me a strange bag filled with the jerky-ish substance. I was scared at first, but after I got a taste, it was delightful.
Favorite meal growing up:
Wu: Rice porridge with pickled cucumbers, fermented egg in soy sauce, and rou song. It was very light but still flavorful and filling. I ate this often with my family.
Tai: Rice porridge also! But with yu song [shredded preserved fish].
Wu: You know, working with gourmet-food trucks, I have the wonderful opportunity to eat delicious, creative food all the time. I recently had a duck confit dish from OC's very own Lime Truck that was very memorable. Good work, fellas.
Tai: Interestingly enough, it would have to be Jason Quinn's Playground. I love the concept and everything he does there. Even now, I'm still thinking about the pan-roasted wild mushrooms with slow egg.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Wu: Pearl sugar, of course.
Tai: . . . . and high-quality flour!
What was your original truck idea?
Both: Crepes, but that was quickly tossed after hearing about the launch of Crepes Bonaparte in OC and Crepe'n Around in LA. To us, being the first truck of its kind was just as important as the quality of the menu and service. We had the idea of a yogurt-parfait truck; that didn't pan out because we didn't get a loan from the bank. But that was the first idea we were serious about.
Who took the delicious photos on your site?
Both: Elsie Fang. She has a great eye for photography, and having quality photos of what you're serving is the first step in providing a positive customer experience.
How did you customize your truck? Was there any equipment/layout you wanted that you couldn't find on existing trucks?
Both: Our truck is completely custom. We built the kitchen out from the back of an empty delivery truck. Our setup had very specific power and equipment requirements that a standard catering truck could not provide. We also had no use for a grill, steam table or fryer.
Culinary speaking, Orange County has the best:
Wu: Liege waffles. But only if we're in town [laughs].
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Wu: McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. I've seen the reports that it's actually "pink slime," but I don't care. It tastes good to me.
Tai: In-N-Out because it's quality, local and just good!
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Wu: I like the peach green tea from 85 Degrees Bakery in Irvine. If I'm in a social setting, I'll drink a gin and tonic, but otherwise, I am not much of an alcohol drinker.
Tai: I enjoy Belgian beers, as well as many of the fantastic creations that come out of the Bruery in Orange. Right now, it's gotta be the Saison Rue.
What's so special about Belgian Pearl Sugar?
Both: It's the heart and soul of a Liege waffle. It "explodes" when cooked, leaving this amazing combination of warm, chewy dough and sugar caramelization. And when you take your first bite, you get some of that remaining sugar in your mouth--it's a wonderful treat.
Biggest challenge about owning a truck:
Tai: Having to deal with all the ordinances and all the laws in different cities.
You purposely divide your time between both LA and OC. Why not stay in just one county?
Both: Liege waffles are the underdogs when it comes to the Belgian waffle world. We started the truck because we wanted to share Liege waffles with all of Southern California, not just a specific area. With a dual-permitted truck, it gave us the freedom to go where we were requested without having to worry about setting up a second truck for a specific county.
One food you can't live without:
Wu: A double-double from In-N-Out.
Tai: Dairy. I can imagine almost anything made better with some type of cream or cheese.
Where was your most recent meal?
Wu: Cook's Torta in LA. I had the torta ahogado, a side of potato salad and a slice of the house carrot cake. Absolutely delicious. The strawberry-guava drink is also very refreshing.
Tai: I was just at Olive Pit Mediterranean Grill in Brea. I had the flat-iron steak, Rocka salad, roasted mushrooms and some tzatziki, stolen from my girlfriend's plate.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Tai: Don't give up and taste, taste, taste!
Lawrence, how does sustainability factor into Waffles de Liege?
Tai: Whenever possible, we try our best to buy local, such as our choice ice-cream purveyor, Fosselman's; green, such as our compostible to-go boxes, plates and ice cream cups; and made in the U.S., from our fridges down to our tip jar.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
Wu: Food, for many, is a form of art. And taking photos of art is fine by me.
Tai: I think it's a great way for people to remember and document all of their culinary experiences. I don't do it often, but I wish I would.
We noticed you serve fresh coffee and all-natural hot cocoa.
Both: Yes! And both are excellent. We always believe in delivering the best quality possible, so we brew each cup of coffee fresh via an Aeropress with quality beans. Our hot chocolate is all-natural and 100 percent made from scratch. We only offer it during the winter, though.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Wu: Uni. Yes, I know it's a common sushi dish and lots of people love it, but it makes me gag. And for that it will be forever weird to me.
Tai: Kombucha. Fizzy, sour, sweet, gooey . . . weird.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Wu: Supreme Dragon in Rowland Heights. I like the staff and the food, and it's a place I've enjoyed for a long time with my family. Lots of positive memories associated with that place.
Tai: At the moment, it's Langer's Deli in LA for its amazing No. 19 Reuben and Mas' Islamic Chinese in Anaheim for its succulent, hand-cut noodles.
How do you like your waffle?
Wu: My go-to combo is speculoos, whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
Tai: Au naturale, but sometimes with ice cream and syrup!
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Wu: Omelet with a lot of avocado, tomatoes and chicken. Or a bagel with a generous amount of cream cheese, fresh apple juice and coffee.
Tai: French toast with candied bananas and V60 pour-over coffee.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Wu: One lady asked us to make an ice-cream waffle sandwich, which we did. We actually added it to our menu. We eventually took it down because it was confusing to those customers expecting the image on our truck.
Tai: Some customers still ask for bean-and-cheese burritos. . . . We don't do those.
What's the difference between speculoos and nutella?
Both: Nutella is a hazelnut-and-chocolate spread. Whereas specullos is simply the spread made from a tasty little shortcrust biscuit that is common around Belgium. We sort of put it on ourselves to introduce speculoos to as many people as we can.
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