Anita Yue Ming Feng laughs about the name of her new venture J’ai Feng, a weekend popup based in the premises of wine bar Cul Sec on Beaubien near St Laurent opening this weekend. “My friends were always saying, ‘J’ai faim!’ when I’d tell them what I was cooking,” she says. “So I figured I might as well make a word play out of my family name.”
Feng, the former chef-owner of dumpling den Trilogie, had left her stint as chef at Park Ex’s Bar Denise when the pandemic hit. She’d been planning to return to Chengdu, China, where she’d studied Sichuan cooking in 2017, and was ready to dive deeper into regional Chinese cooking. With no brick and mortar space to work out of, Feng did some cooking in pop-ups around town, but hasn’t had a kitchen to call home since March.
The connection with Cul Sec happened in a roundabout way: Feng sent a note on instagram to Restaurant Gus, thinking that his kitchen might be available. Owner David Ferguson demurred, but suggested that the empty kitchen at Cul Sec across the street might be available. Cul Sec had pretty much shut down after the second wave, operating out of the Pastaga space around the corner on St Laurent, and the owners were open to the arrangement. For now, J’ai Feng has the tiny Cul Sec kitchen three days a week, but they’ll reevaluate the situation at the end of December.
J’ai Feng’s menus will change weekly (with updates posted on Sundays) and — knowing Feng — will always have the buzz of Sichuan peppercorns at their heart. The inaugural week’s offerings start with two set meals (vegetarian or meat), featuring a soup, side, protein main, and rice. For this weekend, Feng is dedicated to the classics: on the vegetarian side, there’s a hot and sour soup, eggplant in the “mouth-watering” style, and suanxiang (garlic) tofu. The non-vegetarian meal features yintao pork, a sweet, Sichuan version of red-braised pork.
In addition to set meals, Feng is offering épicerie items: a sausage collaboration with David Aghapekian from Jean Talon Market’s Boucherie Dans la Côte, with pork from local Ferme Lennon seasoned with tianmianjiang, Sichuan peppercorns, and burnt peppers; Feng’s own chili oil; a Sichuan dry rub with soya, sesame seed, cumin, and five-spice; pickled radishes; and bottles of soya chenpi, a homemade infusion of light soya with aged tangerine peel, perfect for steaming fish.
Over the next weeks, Feng will be adding frozen items to the takeout options, beyond the cult-favourite White Rabbit popsicles that she’s managed to snag as a dessert option. (We’ve been told that scallion pancakes and some noodles will be on offer.) Given J’ai Feng’s location at one of the city’s most popular wine bars, there will be a range of wines available on-site, too.
Feng was trained as a designer before she got into cooking, and so the graphic design for J’ai Feng is all hers. “I’m excited to be back working again,” she told Eater Montreal. And Montrealers seem excited, too: The new project is already creating Sichuan-style buzz on Instagram, with local food bloggers and Chinese food fans alike eager to taste her spicy creations.
Orders for J’ai Feng must be placed by midnight on Wednesdays for pick-up on Fridays and Saturdays at 29 Beaubien Street East.