A Baltimore restaurant goes above and beyond to make a delicious dish for a special customer.
The e-mail request came into Ekiben restaurant in Baltimore late on a Thursday afternoon in March: tempura broccoli topped with fresh herbs, diced onion, and fermented cucumber vinegar—with a twist. The man who sent the e-mail didn’t actually want the food itself. He was writing on behalf of his mother-in-law, who adored the dish. He went on to explain that she was now in the final stages of lung cancer at her home in Vermont and that he was hoping to get the recipe to make it for her there.
Steve Chu, one of the Asian fusion restaurant’s co-owners, read the e-mail and quickly replied with an alternative suggestion.
“Thanks for reaching out,” he wrote. “We’d like to meet you in Vermont and make it fresh for you.”
Brandon Jones, the son-in-law, was stunned.
“I e-mailed back, saying, ‘You do know that this is Vermont we’re talking about, right?’ ” says Brandon. “But Steve responded, ‘No problem. You tell us the date, time, and location and we’ll be there.’ ”
For the past six years, every time Brandon’s mother-in-law (who asked that her name not be published) visited Baltimore, the first place she wanted to go was Ekiben so she could order that one dish.
“She loves that broccoli, and I really wanted her to have it one more time,” Brandon says.
“She had always told us, ‘When I’m on my deathbed, I want to have that broccoli,’ ” recalls Brandon’s wife, Rina Jones.
That Friday after work, a day after receiving Brandon’s e-mail, Chu loaded his truck with a hot plate and a cooler filled with ingredients and then headed for Vermont with his business partner, Ephrem Abebe, and an employee. They stayed overnight in an Airbnb rental and drove the next day to the condo where Rina’s mother lived.
As soon as the Chu and his team pulled into the parking lot, they got to work. They pulled down the gate of the pickup, hooked the hot plate to the truck’s power port, and started cooking and deep-frying. In addition to broccoli tempura, they made tofu with peanut sauce and fresh herbs, and some steamed rice. After neatly boxing everything up, they knocked on their customer’s door.
“Go ahead and answer,” Rina told her mother.
“As soon as she opened the door, she recognized the aroma,” Brandon says. “It smelled amazing.”
Rina says her mother also recognized the Chu and his coworkers. “My mom kept saying, ‘I don’t understand. You drove all the way up here to cook for me?’ She was so happy and touched to have that broccoli. She couldn’t believe it.”
As for the Chu, he couldn’t help remembering his loyal customer. “She always stood out,” he says. “She loves the food and made sure to tell us. She’s an amazing, sweet lady.”
The Joneses invited the Chu and his team to join them for dinner, but they needed to get back to Baltimore. The Chu also wouldn’t accept any money from the family.
“It was an honor to help fulfill the family’s wishes,” Chu says. “This is about her, not us. There was a lot of good, positive energy in doing this.”
Rina was happy that her mother was able to enjoy her beloved broccoli with a side order of remarkable kindness one last time. “My mom cried later about their generosity, and so did I,” Rina says. “I’ll carry that positive memory with me always.”
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