In 2016, chef Melvin Stovall III started his vegan pop-up Midnight Noodle to focus on Thai dishes. He changed its focus to dim sum and Chinese dishes and now also has a vegan burger pop-up called The 88 Burger (@the88burgerr). Midnight Noodle recently started a residency serving dinner Friday through Sunday at Pax Treme (810 N. Claiborne Ave.). Stovall spoke to Gambit about his pop-up.
Gambit: How did you get interested in doing a pop-up?
Stovall: When I was in Los Angeles, I started my first pop-up. It wasn’t vegan because I wasn’t vegan at the time. It was New Orleans-style food in a two-month pop-up at 4100 Bar in Silver Lake. I had a friend in the seafood industry who was going up to Santa Barbara to get seafood.
In L.A., I was introduced to Thai food, Chinese food, Shanghai-style dishes. I was mostly eating Thai food since it’s so good out there.
When I started [Midnight Noodle] in 2016, it was a Thai food pop-up, and I did nothing but noodles. That’s why the name is Midnight Noodle, and I did classics like pad see ew and pad thai. Then I got interested in dumplings. I was looking at regional Chinese cuisine, mostly from Sichuan because I like spicy food and people from New Orleans like spicy food.
I noticed that a lot of people came in groups, and they’d order a bunch of things and share them. So I thought I should do something that’s easier to share. That was my introduction to Chinese dim sum and the reason for the transition to Chinese cooking. I wanted to focus more on the communal aspect in the pop-up. I started making steamed buns. Everything I do is handmade, except the noodles. Once I made hand-pulled noodles, but that’s a special I only do once in a while. But the buns, the dumplings, everything like that is fresh and handmade. No one cares about it being vegan.
G: Why did you switch to a vegan diet?
S: I turned vegan a year after moving home (to New Orleans). I did it for personal reasons to see if it worked for me. It started off as a health thing, but as I started reading more about the effect on the environment, I stuck with it. Now I can’t picture myself eating animal products.
Being vegan is a big reason for doing Midnight Noodle. It wasn’t a challenge for me to switch out ingredients, because I have been cooking for a long time. I had to adjust the alchemy of some dishes, but if you focus on flavor, then nothing else matters.
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G: What’s on the menu at the new residency?
S: My favorite is the mala bao, which uses mock pork, kale, ginger and scallion, and for a while I was making my own chili oil, but now I use this new chili oil by Fly By Jing. The founder of that is going to come down in October, and we’re going to do a collaborative dinner. We’re going to use Louisiana ingredients and do some Chinese dishes.
(Mala bao) is my version of sheng jian bao — which has pork filling and with green onions. (Chinese cooks) make the filling in balls and put (the dumplings) in a huge wok. You pan-fry the bottom so it’s crisp. Then you add water, which steams the top. You get crunch on the bottom, a juicy filling and you add chili oil for a sort of umami flavor on top.
We also do an ice cream dessert. We use a vegan toasted coconut ice cream from Sundae Best. We put a little Fly By Jing (Sichuan) Chili Crisp on top of it and condensed coconut milk and cilantro. It’s a little bit spicy and tropical with the coconut.
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