Ken Chen’s dad, Bichao Chen, came to the United States to provide a better opportunity for his family when Chen was a baby. His mom joined her husband four years later. Chen lived with his grandpa until he came to the U.S. at age 11.
Chen’s dad, a fisherman, has been in the restaurant business for almost 30 years. He owns Ocean Blue, a Norfolk take-out seafood restaurant, where Ken’s mom works with him.
Chen studied business at Tidewater Community College and lived in Brooklyn, working in real estate for a change of pace.
“I ended up back in the food business because I like cooking,” Chen says. “I wanted to create a business for myself that I enjoy and add my ideas.”
Chen and his business partner, Vincent Jiang, created Mr. Boil Cajun Seafood and Poke Bowl.
“We underestimated how interested people are in this concept,” Chen says. “The first day was crazy.”
Mr. Boil offers two completely different cuisines: Hawaiian poke (sushi) bowls and Louisiana Cajun seafood boil.
“We are the only ones in Virginia to put these two concepts together,” Chen says. He and his staff have had to explain the whole menu since opening in November.
The boil portion of the menu is ordered by choosing two to three of 10 seafood options (one pound each), including Chesapeake Bay blue crab (a half or whole dozen) or a whole lobster; then choosing one of four sauces (dry seasoning, garlic butter with Old Bay or lemon pepper; and Mr. Boil’s special sauce); then selecting your spice level (mild, medium, spicy or fire).
Chen visited a Vietnamese-run restaurant in New Orleans for inspiration regarding his boil menu. He loved its phenomenal Asian boil.
“I tried so hard on my own, but couldn’t get it,” he explains.
After instruction from the owner, Chen returned to get his ratio right. “My dad said, ‘Son, you did something great. I see a future for you.’”
Mr. Boil offers four combos. The largest is the Ultimate Feast, shared among four adults. It includes a whole lobster, Dungeness crab or a dozen blue crabs when in season and a pound of each seafood. The meals are cooked, then tossed in a bag with corn on the cob, potatoes and sausage. The bag comes to the table with gloves, a bib and tools. Diners either eat from the bucket or spill the food on a paper-covered table.
The Poke Bowl menu was inspired by Chen’s introduction to the culinary treat in New York.
The first step in creating a poke bowl is to choose the base of white/brown/purple rice or low-carb zucchini noodles. Purple Rice (brown and black rice mixed, changing the texture and color) is an example of Chinese homestyle cooking Chen brings to the public.
The next step is to choose one or two proteins; then unlimited “mix-ins”; one or more of nine specially flavored sauces—if it is hard to choose, order Mr. Boil’s unique special sauce created by Chen and Jiang; and finally, one or more of eight crunchy toppings.
Mr. Boil’s customized signature poke bowls are an easy-pick version. Diners can pull out and add items from the restaurant’s Create Your Own page.
“As a career sushi chef and now kitchen manager/executive chef at Mr. Boil, I know the importance of freshness in every ingredient,” Jiang says.
“Nowadays, it seems like everybody is trying new food,” Chen says of diner’s desire for authentic culinary experiences.
Previous years of planning by Chen before opening his restaurant paid off in a professional appearance that makes many people think Mr. Boil is a chain.
“It is a small business,” he says. “We spent years creating the menu, recipes, ideas and location.”
Chen’s wife, Christina, is a stay-at-home mom with their three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.
“She stays home full-time so I don’t have to worry about the kids and can focus on work,” Chen says.
Chen’s dad helps with his business. “My dad is a great chef. I miss his homestyle cooking. Right now he’s helping me because he’s taking my son to China for the New Year’s. Mom is also going.”
Mr. Boil is happy to help local organizations with fundraising efforts, usually providing meal gift cards.
In his free time, Chen likes to work out and enjoys cars, being outdoors and having fun.
Chen looks forward to visiting Hawaii one day and possibly creating a new menu section.
“I’m rewarded every time I cook something and the customer enjoys it,” Chen says. This business is not just something I look to make a profit in. First, I want to know people like my food. That makes me feel successful.”
TO THE POINT:
Mr. Boil Cajun Seafood & Poke Bowl Restaurant
Address: 704 Mariners Row, Ste. 108, Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757-807-2888, 757-807-2777