By Carly DeFilippo
When it comes to cultural mash-ups, there are few more beloved dishes than the Chinese-American creation, General Tso’s chicken. After testing out a wide range of front of house, back of house, editorial and marketing positions in the culinary industry, entrepreneurial ICE alum Jessica Lin is bringing a new spin on General Tso’s to the hungry public at Queens’ Long Island City flea. Find out more below—and swing by the Flea on Saturdays this summer to taste General Tso’Boy for yourself!
What inspired your decision to enroll at ICE?
I needed flexibility to work full time and support myself, while still finding time for the things I wanted to learn. So I enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program on the weekends to gain exposure to the culinary world, while working a full time job at a law firm during the week.
Where was your externship and how did it impact your career?
I did an externship at Jean Georges for more than 4 months. While I was there, I made friends with many cooks who are now chefs at their own restaurants; however, I always saw myself gaining wider breadth of knowledge in the food industry, not just in the back of house. I didn’t intend to become a chef, but felt it was necessary to start my training there to understand the whole story.
What have you been up to since graduation?
I’ve had a wide range of roles in the food industry—from front of house at Maialino, to writing and photographing for Eater, to various jobs for start-up food concepts. Eventually, I went back to my alma mater, Cornell University, for a masters in hospitality management, to learn the business side of the industry. From there, I worked as the marketing manager at The Taco Truck before becoming head of marketing at Luke’s Lobster.
How did General Tso’Boy come about?
My partner and I started dreaming about General Tso’Boy nearly two years ago. Gary wanted to improve the general scope of American Chinese food, something he grew up with as the son of a restaurateur. I’m deeply in love with creating brands and concepts, so we naturally started discussing fun, inventive ways to showcase this cultural mix of food that people love. We wanted to create a concept that was truly American. There’s arguably nothing more American than a sandwich—and nothing more American Chinese than General Tso’s chicken! Before launch, we brainstormed names for the concept, hired a freelance designer to help develop the brand identity and tested different sauce and fried chicken recipes for more than a year.
Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?
Being able to start a business while both of us are working full time is both challenging and rewarding. We’ve been very lucky to have people supporting us—both in and out of the industry.
Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
I work 7 days a week. Monday to Friday, I work for Luke’s Lobster handling all the communications and creative—from marketing campaigns to photography for the company. Friday night and Saturday morning, Gary and I prep chicken, make General Tso’s sauce, shred lettuce and load a truck to go to Long Island City. Then, we spend the entire day at LIC Flea selling sandwiches. At the flea, we’re talking to customers to get their feedback, encouraging them to post on social media and really just trying to maximize our 8 weeks at the market. After we finish sales, we head back to the kitchen to scrub things clean. Sunday, we try to take it easy, but it always involves evaluating how we can improve our operations, as well as coming up with creative marketing ideas—like our latest hashtag #tsogood (get it?)!
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
We love doing what we do, and we’re all smiles. But, of course, it’s much harder than most people think. To us, it’s not just a matter of putting Chinese food in a sandwich. We spent more than a year developing the right sauce and searching for the perfect bread. The bread can’t be too soft or too crunchy. It all has to balance out the sandwich with all the flavors and textures happening in there.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
In the near future, we’d like to open a storefront and expand, of course. We also have grand ideas, like creating a 24 hour GTB diner that serves as a test kitchen for new products for quick service shops. There’s also the question of finding a way to bottle and sell our sauces to retail/wholesale or developing a program that gives back to the local community.
How would you describe your “culinary voice”?
We think simplicity is best. We’re not trying to throw “secret ingredients” into our sauce, but we’re using simple techniques to really bring out the flavors of our food. It’s about good ingredients—like a special variety of greenmarket romaine that has less water content, which allows it to stay crisp and taste fresh in the sandwich.
Curious what else you can do with an ICE education? Click here for more alumni stories.