His Doughnuts Were Getting Really Popular. Then He Was Shot in the Face.

After that June night, it was possible he could lose all that. He had months of recovery, which included facial reconstruction, as well as doubts that he could regain his skills as a pastry chef. “I had to make sure that the nerve in my hand wasn’t going to flare up, that my sense of taste was more or less intact,” he said. Through it all, Mr. Eng kept in touch with fans through Instagram, while a local Facebook group posted updates. In the end, he concluded it best not to dwell on the past. After all, it was just one more twist in a long and varied career.

A Bayside native who studied biology before turning to gastronomy, Mr. Eng spent time as a consultant for Asian mega-restaurants like Megu after a stint as the maître d’ at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Thai-inspired restaurant, Vong. A self-proclaimed “walking Zagat guide” of New York food, he was inspired to try his hand at doughnuts after reading Grub Street’s annual Absolute Best Doughnuts in New York list in 2016. He remembers challenging himself not just to join the list but to conquer it. “There are few doughnuts I find perfect in restraint and balance,” he said. “Most of them are just too sweet.”

Last year, Black Label made its debut on the Grub Street list at No. 6, just ahead of Greenpoint’s long-running Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop, and the only one of the Top 10 in Queens, just weeks before Mr. Eng was attacked. Buoyed by this initial success, which confirmed that his hard work had paid off, Mr. Eng tried to get back to work as soon as possible, continuing to refine the basics of even his most popular his recipes.

Mr. Eng’s glazes, marmalades and custards are made from scratch. Two days before the scheduled pop-up, the dough is mixed and cold-fermented over 24 hours. “There’s a reason why they taste the way they do,” Mr. Eng said. It’s also the reason why, at $4 to $6 per doughnut, the sweets are at the higher end of the price spectrum for Queens.

But even in Queens no one seems to mind paying the premium, or waiting in line, or for many people, trekking to Bayside for the privilege. For one of the last pop-ups of the year, in less-than-favorable weather conditions, the wait was about two hours, Mr. Eng said.

Still, there’s something to be said for a good comeback story. His attackers are still at large, but Mr. Eng’s brush with death certainly hasn’t hurt his popularity. In fact, it may have increased it. “I really didn’t have the time to go until I read about his tragedy in the news,” said Mr. Sielegar, of the Moon Man stall. “So when the pop-up was back up and running, I told myself I would at least go and try. We ended up becoming friends.”

Mr. Eng wants to keep the momentum going with his doughnuts, but at this point, needs a new homebase for his pop-ups. “I don’t know where I’m going to be and now I’m putting everyone else in limbo,” he laughed. “I’ve flipped it back on them.” For now, he plans to stay in his own borough, a fitting home, he said, for his multicultural doughnuts. “You’re not going to find anything as diverse in this country as Queens.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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