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    Asian-American food has a bad reputation. Arriving crammed in white cardboard boxes, it is just-because-it’s-there, hungry-an-hour-later, one-night-stand food. A last resort, a lonely midnight nosh. “I wanted to change people’s perception of Asian food,” says Alvin Lin, the 25-year-old owner of Joy Luck. “Asian food, when done right, can be competitive with French cuisine.”

    He is leaning back in a chair on the patio of his Bardstown Road restaurant, in a house that used to be the Indian restaurant Kashmir before it moved next door. Sunshine glints off Lin’s mirrored sunglasses. “A lot of Asian food has the stereotype of being quick and fast, walk-and-go, like Dragon China Huts or whatever,” Lin says. “I wanted to break that stereotype.”

    Explaining Joy Luck’s menu, Lin says: “It’s Taiwanese food, first and foremost. Taiwan is this really interesting fusion. It’s a hybrid of two cultures — mainly Japanese and Chinese.” This intermingling is evident in the Taiwanese duck, encrusted with a thin layer of tempura batter, a traditional Japanese preparation.

    As a child, Lin ate the kind of Taiwanese dishes he wants to serve his customers. “When I was growing up, you couldn’t find cans in our household. Everything was made from scratch,” he says. “When this place started, I wanted to treat all customers like they were in our own home. I wanted to treat them to fresh ingredients, everything hand-prepared — the short ribs in black-bean sauce is literally the exact same recipe my dad used to make me as a little kid.”

    Both of Lin’s parents, Fu-Tsin and Pauline, are from Taiwan. They moved to America separately in the late ’60s/early ’70s, Fu-Tsin to continue his career as a chef in the States and Pauline to attend the University of Texas. They met in Tennessee and moved to Lexington, where they raised their family. Lin, for his part, says he’s “at home in cowboy boots” and that his favorite band is Alabama. You can take the man out of Lexington…. 

    Fu-Tsin and Pauline work with their son at Joy Luck, Dad as chef and Mom as — “Well, she’s the boss,” Lin says. “She’s the queen bee. If there’s one woman I’ll be afraid of for the rest of my life, it’s my mom.” Lin’s only sibling, his brother Brendan, also works part-time at Joy Luck.

    Lin went to the University of Kentucky and double-majored in history and political science, with the intention of going to law school. “I used to come up here (to Louisville) on the weekends, and I’d get this craving for homemade Asian food. And I figured, ‘Of all places, Louisville has to have something I enjoy.’ And I just couldn’t find a spot I liked,” he says.

    After college (and after dull, desk-bound internships at law and accounting firms) Lin called his parents to say, “Hey, listen. I’m opening up a restaurant.

    “Of course they came and helped me out,” Lin says from Joy Luck’s patio. “No way I could have done this without them. I would have crashed and burned if they weren’t here.”

    Images courtesy of Chris Witzke

    This article appears in the September issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

    Elizabeth Myers's picture

    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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