Amelie Kang is the co-founder of Málà Project, a 3-unit restaurant concept in New York City specializing in Sichuan dry pots, which are similar to what we think of as Mongolian barbecue here in the United States: The customer’s choice of raw ingredients quickly stir-fried together. The main difference is the Sichuan flavor profile called málà. Má is the Mandarin Chinese term for the numbing sensation that comes from Sichuan peppercorns, and là is the burning heat from chiles. The combination is vibrant taste explosion loved far beyond the borders of Sichuan, a large province in southwestern China. Indeed, Kang is from Tangshan, near Beijing in the northeast of the country, but Sichuan dry pot was the food that she most missed from home when she came to the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
With the help of investment from her parents among others, she opened her first MáLà Project in New York’s East Village in 2015. The restaurant quickly got attention from locals, and gradually got critical acclaim: Kang was named an Eater’s Young Gun in 2018 and a member of its “New Guard of New York” in 2020. That same year she and business partners Meng Ai, Yishu He and Evan Toretto Li were named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for food & drink.
Málà Project now has three locations, with two more on the way.
She recently shared her thoughts behind developing the restaurant, the inevitable adjustments she made during the pandemic, precautions taken as anti-Asian hostility surged, and her plans for the future.