In Good Taste

Hopkins Student Shares Chinese-American Heritage with Food Pop-Up

Jesse Wu’s former dorm room restaurant, Jade, will settle at R. House later this month.

By Lauren Cohen | May 1, 2019, 3:01 pm

-Jesse Wu
In Good Taste

Hopkins Student Shares Chinese-American Heritage with Food Pop-Up

Jesse Wu’s former dorm room restaurant, Jade, will settle at R. House later this month.

By Lauren Cohen | May 1, 2019, 3:01 pm

-Jesse Wu

On a cold evening in February, Johns Hopkins University sophomore Jesse Wu pulled out his wok, heated up a dutch oven, and prepped a three-course meal for some of his friends. The menu featured chicken wings sous vide in Shaoxing wine with hoisin vinegar sauce, mapo tofu with szechuan peppercorns and doubanjiang bean paste, and a traditional red bean soup with tapioca pearls and orange zest.

“It’s basically your classic Chinese banquet dessert,” Wu explains. “Even after a full meal, you always have to save space for that red bean soup.”

The impressive menu is one that could easily be found at any upscale Chinese restaurant in the area, but, in Wu’s case, the kitchen and dining room were all set up in his cozy Hopkins dorm.

Symbolizing “something precious” in Chinese culture, Wu’s restaurant concept Jade is a way for the biomedical engineering student to share his heritage with his peers, while also expanding his studies.

“I’m very interested in, not just clinical, but also social and cultural medicine,” says Wu, who wants to go on to medical school and eventually pursue a career as a physician-chef. “I think that food plays a really important role in all three. I’d really like to incorporate what I know about food and my experiences working in restaurants to make systemic change.”

The son of an engineer and a food scientist, Wu says that STEM has always been in his blood. But it wasn’t until he got to college and began writing for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter that he started to learn more about the local food scene and flex his cooking skills.

Pork spareribs with soy jus and pickled chili. -Jade

“Since I’m the youngest in my family, I was always barred from the kitchen,” he says of his upbringing in Massachusetts. “My parents were always like, ‘Don’t let Jesse get cut or get burned. We have to protect our youngest and make sure he does well in school’—only for me to later go off to school and get burned and cut in the kitchen.”

The greatest burn came just one week after Wu’s inaugural Jade pop-up in his dorm. Just as he was about to announce the next night of service to his friends on social media, Wu got a call from the residential director of his building, who informed him that Hopkins was shutting the operation down.

Although Wu is ServSafe certified and was only permitting invited guests into his dorm, the university has a strict anti-dorm business policy. It also has a non-compete agreement with its food management company, which prohibits outside organizations from serving food on campus. (Wu later penned an opinion piece for the News-Letter about the university’s role in fostering young entrepreneurship.)

In a true reflection of his enterprising spirit, Wu didn’t let the obstacle stop him from continuing Jade: “You can’t ever let anything like that get you down,” he says. “No matter how overwhelming or looming the institution imposing it upon you may seem.”

Instead, he chose to turn to the community around him to figure out how to keep the restaurant going. Through the university’s TCO Labs incubator, he connected with fellow student Pava LaPere—who has founded three different startups in her undergraduate career. After hearing about Jade, LaPere let Wu use her apartment building as the venue for the second pop-up in April.

He also connected with local chef mentors like Rey Eugenio of the Masarap pop-up and Steve Chu of Ekiben. These experiences in the local food scene have prepared Wu for his biggest gig yet—a stint in the rotating pop-up stall at R. House May 28-June 2. The menu will highlight riffs on Jade’s signature dishes, which include crispy scallion pancakes, popcorn chicken and tapioca longjin milk tea, and a vegan version of the mapo tofu.

“I came to Hopkins because of the biomedical engineering program, but I stayed because of Baltimore,” Wu says. “The food community is so cooperative. People who work in food service know how hard it is, and they’re so willing to help if you have a good mindset. It’s really fantastic to see all of that love and support be channeled toward one kid with a pipe dream.”

Moving forward, Wu is excited to see how Jade will evolve throughout his undergraduate career and beyond.

“I want to see it grow,” he says. “That’s what immigrant food has to do. We have to be flexible so that we can share it with as many people as we can, and in as many spaces as possible.”

Meet The Author

Lauren Cohen is a digital associate editor for Baltimore, where she blogs about food, events, lifestyle, and community news.

You May Also Like

In Good Taste

Chilango’s Taking Over Former Modern Cook Shop Space in Fells Point

New tequila bar and Mexican grill comes from owner of Carlos O’Charlies in Highlandtown.

In Good Taste

The Ultimate Charm City Snowball Guide

We break down where to find the area’s token treats.

Food & Drink

Review: The Alexander Brown Restaurant

With some tweaks, The Alexander Brown Restaurant could be on the money.

Arts District

The Iconic Marble Bar is Being Revived Into a Community Cafe

Mobtown Ballroom owners plan to pay homage to the former punk rock haven.

Food & Drink

Local Flavor Live Podcast: The Growth of Global Cuisine in Baltimore

Plus, a new Mexican restaurant in Fells Point, the rolled ice cream trend spreads, and our best bites this week.

Food & Drink

A-Z Guide to Crabs

The ultimate hardshell Bible.

Connect With Us

Most Read

The Banksy of Baltimore: Reed Bmore has built a local following for his thought-provoking wire sculptures.

Eyes of the Law: In new book, former undercover cop Jim Cabezas details his career fighting corruption and blindness.

Movie Review: Yesterday: British fantasy is perfectly diverting, but barely scratches the surface of its intriguing premise.

Larder Chef Helena del Pesco Talks Intersection Between Food and Art: Trading San Francisco Bay for the Chesapeake Bay, the chef makes her mark in Old Goucher.

NBA Veteran Rudy Gay Gives Back to the Place Where It All Started: The Baltimore native and 13-year pro says “an idle mind is the devil's playground.”