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Chef Talk: Shanghai Slim's Adam Levin

If Adam Levin had joined the ranks of his family’s business, he would probably be a high-paid lawyer working 80 hours a week by now. The youngest of four siblings, all members of the bar, Levin decided to diverge from the family profession and head to the kitchens of Italy instead of the libraries of law school at the age of 24. Luckily for Shanghai – he now spends his time breaking laws to get USDA beef on our plates.

A New York transplant to Las Vegas, Levin took advantage of the culinary draw of "America's Playground", working with the likes of Jean-Louis Palladin and Wolfgang Puck, who he counts among his mentors, not to mention Jean-George Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Mark Miller. But China is where he's made his mark, first in Beijing's Aria in 1998, then Hong Kong's Bostonian Restaurant. In 2001, Levin decided it was time to set out on his own – but the global recession got to his grand plans before he could.

"I always planned to open a fine dining restaurant, but the economy kept getting in the way," he explains. First, the events of 9/11 plunged the global tourism industry into disarray, then in 2003 SARS put a damper on the flow of visitors to Hong Kong. Instead of slaving away in someone else's kitchen, Chef Levin decided to take advantage of the credit crunch and create his own market.

“In Hong Kong, you had fine dining and fast food. Western restaurants were missing an entire level of affordable cuisine that was not plastic fast food,” he explains. Inspiration came in the form of an unsatisfied craving for tacos, and Levin opened Taco Loco, Hong Kong’s first authentic Mexi-Cali taqueria (no relation to the recently closed Shanghai restaurant of the same name). The cheap, fast burrito joint answered the prayers of a hungry city, but Levin wasn’t finished with the lunch crowd.

Hot on the heels of Taco Loco, Levin opened Archie B’s, a New York style deli serving up pastrami shipped straight from New York City favourite Katz’s Delicatessen. A vocal proponent for quality ingredients, Levin isn’t afraid to import in a world that increasingly lauds locavore tendencies. When he moved to Shanghai in 2005 and opened up New York Style Steak & Burger, he started conveying USDA beef from the fields of America, despite the Chinese ban on the product.

Now just half a decade later he’s doubling up on his illicit orders with the recently-opened Shanghai Slims in Sinan Mansions. While presiding over the open kitchen, Chef Levin proudly wears a USDA Beef logo on his chef whites, and his menu for the high-end steak, lobster and seafood concept bolds its USDA Prime beef property. Levin says he isn’t worried about the legal implications – he just wants to serve good food.

“Some people ask if I use it because it's American. I use it because it's the best,” he says. “I waited five and a half years to open a steak restaurant in Shanghai and be on the cusp when USDA beef was allowed back in the country.”

Well, if he’s been a little impatient and rolled out the beef a bit prematurely, we’ll forgive him. After all, that means a New York-portioned slab of prime beef on our plates, and who can say no to that?


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