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Family of Snoqualmie chefs cook spicy favorites
Chefs and owners Qiong and Yue Jin Zhen put the traditions of their home province of Szechuan, China, into every meal they cook.
The Zhens run Snoqual-mie’s recently opened Szechuan Bean Flower restaurant, at 7730 Center Blvd., Suite F, on Snoqualmie Ridge, in the Ridge Grocery building.
Wife Qiong grew up in a family of chefs, receiving long-cherished recipes. Yue Jin received formal training in 1978 at a Beijing cooking school. The couple operated restaurants in Szechuan and Beijing for more than a decade before bringing their style of cooking to Seattle. They ran restaurants in Seattle for three years before moving to the Ridge this summer.
The menu at Szechuan Bean Flower includes a number of Chinese-American favorites, such as Mu Shu or almond fried chicken. There are also plenty of spicy Szechuan finds, such as spicy potato salad or fried fish.
Szechuan food is strong in flavor. Most recipes involve pepper or peppercorns, and can sometimes be sweet or sour, but always with a bit of spice.
“People who like spicy food tend to enjoy it,” said Ben Zhen, son of Qiong and Yue Jin Zhen, who works with his parents at the restaurant.
The story of the Zhen family’s cuisine starts with their parents. Qiong’s father was a chef, cooking during challenging times in the 1960s and ‘70s in China.
“It was hard to get by, just to get simple food,” Ben said. “Because he worked in a government restaurant, he was able to feed everybody.”
Ben’s grandfather had connections to food plants and providers, and was able to get a surplus for his kitchen, bringing some home to feed his family.
“He had skills, so he had people want to learn from him,” Ben said. Besides his formal apprentices, Qiong also learned from him, little by little.
When Qiong, who worked in a meat processing plant, lost her job, her father helped set her up in a combined restaurant/grocery store in Szechuan.
Yue Jin started as a chef in the military, but his cooking skills began in the home. Asked why he cooks, Yue Jin explains that work in China isn’t always “what you decide — It’s the government deciding what you should do.”
As a soldier, he was a chef in a military restaurant that catered to officers and officials. After leaving the military, the government got him a job at the same meat plant where Qiong worked. They met, and later started successful restaurant businesses.
Ben explains that his father left China after running afoul of the authorities. He criticized the government in public, complaining about disparities in society as once-public enterprises became private.
“My dad was saying that this society is not right,” Ben said. “The police came to our place, saying he was making trouble.”
Yue Jin went into hiding for a few months. A friend persuaded him to move to the United States. Yue Jin’s family had enough money to make the move, thanks to their successful restaurant business.
“The friend told him, if you don’t like it, just leave,” Ben said. “So he got out, and we followed.”
Speaking through Ben, Yue Jin explained that he enjoys cooking.
His own father was blind and was unable to walk, injured from a war wound. Yue Jin had to do all the cooking.
“He was the only son in the family,” Ben said. “He had to cook for the entire family. He enjoys providing food for everyone.”
Yue Jin and Qiong employ the same family approach at their Snoqualmie restaurant. Speaking through her son, Qiong said that she hopes diners enjoy their meals. She said her family’s cooking is authentic Szechuan food, similar to what you get in China.
Listening, Yue Jin added his own philosophy.
“He said he always presents the best food,” Ben said.
• Contact Szechuan Bean Flower restaurant at (425) 396-0928. Or, visit the restaurant Web site at szechuanbeanflower.com.