Studiofeast: Q&A with Mike Lee

When I used to live at 18 Eckford there were a lot of dinner parties. I got invited to neighbors’ parties and I also threw many at my loft. Hosting dinner parties is exciting. I thrive on making my guests happy. I want to make sure the food is tasty, unique yet comforting. I pick the wine that goes with the food. I light candles in holders that match the tablecloth. I fill the vases with exotic flowers. I make a new playlist for background music. The ice cream for dessert has to be a one of a kind flavor from Il Laboratorio del Gelato. One time I actually skipped work to buy fresh fish for a dinner. I even thought of shaving my head so that my hair wouldn’t fall into the food.I become too meticulous. So by the end of the meal I run out of the energy to enjoy my own party. So when my friend Tom gave me tips on Studiofeast, who throw dinner parties at undisclosed locations all over Williamsburg, I immediately checked it out online. What Studiofeast offered seemed to me the coolest thing money can buy in the entire universe. The food made by the founder Mike Lee and his right hand man Derrick Yuen is elaborate, decadent and meaty yummy.

Q1: How did you come up with this great project? Can you tell us the story behind the birth of Studiofeast
Studiofeast was created to give a great culinary experience that's somewhere in between and completely different from a restaurant or dinner party. The seed was planted 4 years ago in my old Morningside Heights apartment where my roommate and I had weekly "Lobs Wednesdays" dinners of lobster-everything. The guests would rotate every week, so it was a different tone each time. We got really good at making all things lobster and were so systematic about the night that we almost printed up fake Zagat reviews of ourselves to slip into the guidebooks at Barnes and Noble.

I've since then moved into a larger studio, and the dinner parties here steadily grew in scope until they needed a bigger, more structured platform of expression. This is where Studiofeast came about. I loved the idea of having a restaurant-like environment that didn't have the financial and conceptual fixed costs of a traditional restaurant. It was like smashing a restaurant into a rave.

With Studiofeast, I had complete creative control and didn't have to make certain compromises that many restauranteurs inevitably make just to stay in business. By removing the certain parts of the profit motive, we could be wholly focused on doing something honest, unique, and creative.

Q2: What is your clientele like?
One of the greatest things about Studiofeast is how diverse and friendly our guests are, and it's always very gratifying for me to see people from very different walks of life getting along. This is very important. Whenever you're sharing a meal with people, your mouth spends about 20% of its time chewing the food and the remaining time is spent gabbing on with your table mates--that 80% can make or break your night.

Q3: Your dishes look very beautiful. Do you have a background in art and design?
I do and I don't. I have a degree in business, but spent some time at Parsons studying graphic design as well. I've worked in finance, marketing, advertising, and graphic design, but the presentation of the food derives from my aesthetic sensibilities. The other disciplines have helped greatly in organizing and promoting the Studiofeast events--there's a lot more than a good eye and steady hand that goes into making a pretty plate.

Q4: What was your family feast growing up?
Family feasts growing up were relentless. Most of my family tree lives within a 20 mile radius of each other in suburban Detroit and they collectively own 3 restaurants in the area. So with 80% of your family working late restaurant hours, special occasions like birthdays were celebrated with 10 course meals that started at 12am, often running to 3:30am. Grandpa would have the chef assemble a menu, he'd nod out his approval, and the ingestion would begin. These were the only hours everyone wasn't working and could gather, so I've essentially been training since I was a baby for some twisted Olympics of insomnia and carbo-loading. Don't even get my started on the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners--there were casualties, I'm sure.

Q5: When did you start cooking?
I think I was 8, and it was Mother's Day and I made mom a scrambled egg sandwich for breakfast. By age 9, I was making Tabasco and cheese omlettes to eat while watching Saturday morning cartoons. At 10, I learned how to pimp out instant ramen noodles into big giant Momofuku-like noodle bowls. By 16, it was bacon wrapped tornadoes of beef. And, so on...

Q6: What is the most ambitious dish you made so far?
I've been moving more and more towards simplicity lately, but the last thing I remember making that took a lot of work was a Turducken. It wasn't necessarily the tastiest thing I've ever made, but it delivered a certain wow-factor that only a de-boned chicken stuffed inside of a duck stuffed inside of a turkey can bring. My ambition was tender and weighed 32 lbs when it was complete.

Q7: Men with culinary talent are hot! Are you popular with girls?
Have you used your skills as an advantage for dating?'s tough to say how much effect that cooking has had in my love life. Cooking and eating well has always been a huge part of my life, so I can't really imagine what life--dating or otherwise--would be without it. As for using cooking to my advantage with girls, I'm not sure. Although, the first conversation that I had when I met my girlfriend revolved around a whole suckling pig that I had recently roasted. I mean...I love pork! So if you find that romantic, then yes, I have used cooking to my advantage.

Q8: You said you are vacationing in Sweden right now. Did you come across any interesting local delicacy?
I think I ate every local delicacy they have in Stockholm, and I can't decide which was my favorite. The short list of great things to eat in Sweden would include: street vendor hot dogs with mashed potatoes, shrimp salad, Cronions and remoulade ; fish stew; reindeer stew; and of course, the eponymous meatballs. I was in Iceland too, where the Icelandic lamb stew and Skyr cheese-yogurt were standouts. We also had fermented shark, smoked whale, puffin, and horse, which were all interesting, but none of which I'd eat a full plate of. If you'd like to simulate the taste of putrified shark at home, buy a block of Stilton blue cheese and pee all over it. Oh, the Vikings.

Q9: What is the last thing you ate?
This is going to be boring, but I just made a giant chicken salad. I've somehow managed to only eat trace amounts of green vegetables in Sweden and Iceland, and am *much* in need of plain, simple roughage. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Q10: What are your favorite cooking shows?
The Food Network has gone completely terrible, with all the Racheal Ray/Sandra Lee horseshit, but a few shows that I still like are: old Molto Mario with Mario Batali, the F-Word with Gordon Ramsay, and No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. I also miss those old Yan Can Cook shows with Martin Yan, and the Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr. All of the above are total pimps.

Q11: Where is your favorite restaurant in Williiamsburg?
Fette Sau, Luger's , and Pies 'n Thighs are my faves. They all give me what I want out of Brooklyn: meaty, beefy, attitude.

Takk fyrir, Mike!

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