Waxing nostalgic with Stanley Lem, head chef at Kowloon in Saugus. By Lindsay Lambert
From that unforgettable scene in the 1983 classic A Christmas Story to events as recent as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing (YouTube.com search: “Elena Kagan Chinese food”), Chinese cuisine has been woven into the cultural fabric of the American holiday season for decades. One of the North Shore’s most notable restaurants and a classic in its own right, Kowloon offers not only delicious and festive Chinese fare, but an extensive menu of more than 500 Szechuan, Cantonese, Thai, and sushi dishes, plus a constant shuffle of entertainment. Kowloon’s head chef, Stanley Lem, has manned the kitchen at the Saugus restaurant for 52 years, while the eatery itself celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2010.
What are your most popular dishes? Saugus chicken wings, Seafood Exotic Fantasy, General Gau Chicken, Pad Thai, our sushi, and, of course, our old stand-bys, such as chicken fingers and crab Rangoon-in no particular order.
Have you ever missed a day of work? Of courseÂ…but my most memorable days missed were during the blizzard of ’78. My car got stuck on Route 128 and I had to abandon it there. I ended up missing a week of work!
What’s the best part of your job? My co-workers. [They’re a] great bunch of people. And in the restaurant business, you see them more than your family sometimes.
And the most difficult part? When we are short staffed. It’s very tough to work, and stressful. Numerous celebrities have stopped by Kowloon. Any good stories or favorites? We do get a large share of celebrities, which is very flattering. Naturally, [sports radio talk show host] Eddie Andelman is our biggest fan, and I’ve met him, as well as named a dish after him.
Where do your recipes come from? Many of our Chinese recipes come from [Kowloon owner] Bill Wong’s parents. They owned a restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston called Mai Fong. I worked there in my younger days and learned how to cook.
By what dish are customers most often pleasantly surprised? Our Saugus Wings really surprise [restaurant patrons] the first time. And most everyone gets hooked on them. Sorry-but the ingredients are an ancient secret!