Atlanta chef finds second chance with Taiwanese pop-ups

At a recent popup at Eventide Brewing in Grant Park, Fu-Mao Sun’s Mighty Hans pop-up served baos, pineapple doughnuts and other Taiwanese bites. / 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
At a recent popup at Eventide Brewing in Grant Park, Fu-Mao Sun’s Mighty Hans pop-up served baos, pineapple doughnuts and other Taiwanese bites. / Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fu-Mao Sun finally had gotten to a place as a chef where he felt he could become really good at it. He’d worked his way up the line at the trendy NoMad Restaurant in New York, and was ready to conquer San Francisco’s dining scene, or move to France to hone his craft.

Then, he got a call from Atlanta. He was going to have to move South for family reasons.

Now 38, Sun always has had complicated emotional connections to food.

His immigrant family ran Chinese restaurants in New York and Massachusetts, yet they saw such work as somehow taboo. They wanted their first-born to excel academically, maybe go to an Ivy League college. He tried his best, but ended up at Rutgers. After graduating, Sun took a job in finance in Manhattan. A few years in, he realized he hated it. “I was like, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’” he recalled.

Fortunately, there was a way out.

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Fu-Mao Sun is the chef-owner of Mighty Hans, an Atlanta popup that serves Taiwanese and Chinese food. 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Fu-Mao Sun is the chef-owner of Mighty Hans, an Atlanta popup that serves Taiwanese and Chinese food. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As a kid, Sun felt a mysterious tingle at the sight of the fire and the wok. So, at 31, he enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education. Every day, after leaving the office, he’d go to class. To gain experience, he volunteered in the kitchen of the James Beard Foundation. After completing his culinary training, he landed a yearlong externship with the prestigious Gramercy Tavern, pulling brunch shifts while still holding down the corporate job.

Once he got the offer at celebrity chef Daniel Humm’s NoMad, he left Gramercy Tavern on a Friday — and clocked in at the fancy hotel restaurant the following Monday. Life was good.

Today, four years after moving to Atlanta, Sun works as a salesman at his dad’s business, which imports Asian sauces and sells them to distributors. Like that corporate job back in New York, it’s been a grind. Only now, he has a wife and two small children to support.

Still, he never has stopped loving the fire. He built a barbecue pit in the backyard of his Atlanta home, and once had a pig pull that fed 70 people. When he discovered you could rent a professional kitchen and stage a pop-up, he found a way back to his happy place, by cooking his mom’s Taiwanese food.

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Mighty Hans serves Taiwanese-style fried chicken and dipping sauce at popups around town. Sometimes, the chef tucks the chicken into sandwiches.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Mighty Hans serves Taiwanese-style fried chicken and dipping sauce at popups around town. Sometimes, the chef tucks the chicken into sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I met Sun on a Saturday afternoon outside Eventide Brewing in Grant Park. Under a red tent borrowed from a friend, in a T-shirt that said, “I’m from here,” he was frying Taiwanese popcorn chicken and filling warm fluffy bao buns with his smoked brisket and pork belly. He also hawked pineapple-glazed doughnuts filled with pineapple custard, his version of the Taiwanese pastry feng li su.

After serving multi-course Taiwanese dinners at the Learning Kitchen and Chow Club, and having his momentum interrupted by the pandemic, Sun now is a pop-up warrior who goes by the name Mighty Hans, which makes reference to the Han people of China and a song he loved as a teen, “Mighty Healthy,” by rapper Ghostface Killah.

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Before heading South, Sun and his wife lived exclusively in the Northeast. They found Atlanta to be “slower, but in a good way.”

“Down here, people were saying, ‘hi,’ and they were saying, like, “God bless,’“ he said. “My wife and I were like, ‘Whoa! What’s going on? This is so different.‘“

As a chef, he’s been gratified by the reception to dishes like pork belly over rice with soy-sauce egg and pickles. He’s especially proud that the Asian-American communities have been so enthusiastic.

“This is the type of food that they ate when they were kids, and when they went to Taiwan as kids,” said Sun, who plans to continue offering multi-course, supper club-style dinners, too. “It’s something that’s very near and dear to their hearts.”

This Saturday, at Sun Market in Decatur, he’ll serve fan tuan — rice ball stuffed with fried cruller, pork floss and pickles. To drink, there’ll be traditional soy milk, sweetened with rock sugar.

He hopes his authentic Taiwanese breakfast will strike a nostalgic chord with his Asian followers. “They are just yearning for it,” he said.

Sun’s life has taken many twists and turns, some good, some bad. It couldn’t have been easy to leave Manhattan, just as he was on a path to being promoted to sous chef. But, seeing people light up over the food his family brought from Taiwan makes him beam once again.

WHERE TO FIND FU-MAO SUN NEXT

11 a.m.-2 p.m. June 19 at Sun Market, 2067 Columbia Drive, Decatur; 5-10 p.m. June 23 at Georgia Beer Garden, 420 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta. instagram.com/itsmightyhans

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