IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that you stumble upon an Asian restaurant with an Italian-American
chef whipping up pho and dumplings in the kitchen. But at downtown Raleigh’s MOFU Shoppe, it’s just part of the routine for executive chef Matt Greiner. MOFU, meaning “more fortune,” is the crowning glory of Sonny Lin and Sophia Woo, two Taiwanese Raleighites who you may recognize as the season six champions of the Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race.”
After investing their $50,000 winnings into a brick-and-mortar restaurant at City Market, Lin and Woo devised an eclectic, uniquely Asian menu that incorporates both their Taiwanese-American backgrounds along with influences from Greiner, who was born and bred on Long Island and has an impressive resume in the food industry.
“The authenticity is what MOFU’s about,” says Greiner, formerly the executive chef at the Italian restaurant Vivace. “It’s authentic to the ladies and the food.” Lin and Woo, or the ladies as Greiner refers to them, grew up with Taiwanese parents and have lived for the majority of their lives in the southern United States, though they have traveled to Taiwan as well. Woo takes pride in her second-generation Taiwanese upbringing, as she says it has allowed her to become fluent in food here in America as well as in the food of her parents’ culture.
Greiner, who MOFU originally hired as a sous chef, took over the reins as head chef three months ago. Since then, he’s helped grow the restaurant and the menu into the one-of-a-kind establishment it is today. “I’m always impressed by how much knowledge Matt has,” Lin says. “He brings a level of energy to the kitchen that I don’t feel like just anybody could do. I don’t think that’s replaceable.”
Lin and Woo incorporate their knowledge of food and preparation techniques that they’ve learned from their mothers and grandmothers into MOFU’s diverse dishes, which get a pair of
fresh eyes from Greiner. He takes their concepts in new and interesting directions; this helps keep MOFU’s offerings fresh and dynamic while Greiner gets to learn a trick or two. “Every day I learn something new,” he says. “They’re teaching me so much more than I ever knew about Asian food—the flavors, the combinations. It’s just been mind-blowing to me, and it’s helping me expand my palate and my cooking techniques.”
To curate the dishes on MOFU’s menu, the trio comes up with different concepts and ideas to try out in the kitchen and present as finished items. This process prompts a discussion of what works and what doesn’t, and the chefs re-evaluate the dishes’ different ingredients and play off of each others’ opinions in order to reach a final product. They strive to create dishes that are genuine to the team and reflective of their different backgrounds.
“We’ve built this place on who we are,” Lin says. “The inspiration we draw from is from our lives, our peers, our mentors and our teammates, and that’s what makes it different.”
MOFU’s menu ranges accordingly in genres, with a variety of influences represented in each dish. Their signature MOFU wings, served with either buttery Sriracha or nuoc mam lime glaze, combine both Taiwanese and American influences. The nuoc mam lime glaze blends fish sauce, sugar, lime and chili, providing an umami taste that Woo says pairs well with the wings and takes a modern spin on a traditional American bar bite. The green curry mussels draw on a slew of eclectic backgrounds, from traditional preparation methods found all along the coasts of the U.S. and Taiwan.
The mussels, sourced from Wilmington, are topped with a sauce inspired by a Thai green curry along with pork belly bits, a staple of Southern cultures. They’re served with youtiao, a traditional Taiwanese breakfast bread. Additional items on MOFU’s menu include a sweet and sour octopus bowl, roasted king trumpet mushroom, fish tacos, roasted carrot soup, beef and vegetable pho and, of course, the dumplings that made Lin and Woo famous. MOFU Shoppe’s cozy space, with its tall windows for natural light, wraparound bar and wooden furniture, is an intimate and welcoming backdrop to enjoy all of these dishes.
The considered blending of cultural ingredients is what makes MOFU Shoppe stand out from Raleigh’s many other Asian eateries. Lin, Woo and Greiner excel in creating familiar dishes with unexpected twists, allowing Raleighites to experience a variety of cultures all in one space.
The trio takes its “more fortune” motto seriously. For Greiner, it means parlaying his passion for cooking into creating communal experiences, gathering people together to share a delicious meal. For Woo, it’s staying true to her Raleigh roots by giving back a bit of her Taiwanese culture to the community.
“The translation of bringing something that we know really well to a group that maybe doesn’t know it as well is exciting and fun,” Woo says. “Food’s a great way to learn about another culture as you get a glimpse into another country, and their history, through it. We eat through everything.”