Once a foodie, always a foodie | Kathy Marcks Hardesty | Wine

When I got my first restaurant job, it was an old-fashioned cafe where I was hired to make sandwiches. It was a good start, as I didn’t know how to cook when I was 19, but the kind cook there started teaching me how to fry an egg and make perfectly crispy bacon.

I did not stay there long, it did not ignite the greedy in me. I found a job I liked more at a main store selling rock and roll posters and scented candles. We also sold (cigarette) papers, but no marijuana (to the disbelief of some people).

My next change was to become a bartender in a beer and wine bar. I didn’t drink alcohol but loved talking to people. I can chat with a complete stranger, especially when it comes to sharing restaurant tips.

The owner of the full bar next door loved me so much that he offered me a job. I said I didn’t know how to make cocktails, but he said they would teach me. I stayed with him for five years and then got a job at the nicest restaurant and lounge in our small town in Northern California.

This experience changed my life. I became a foodie thanks to our great Hawaiian chef there. I started spending my day in San Francisco exploring the superb food scene there. It was then that I decided to become a chef and enrolled in the California Culinary Academy. It was also there that I learned to appreciate that good wine was a natural part of gastronomy.

This school was a dream come true, I loved it almost every minute of it. Problem was, I was a few years older than the kids fresh out of high school, who had wealthy parents (they had to be able to afford that expensive cooking college). And most of the young students didn’t have great taste or passion, which doesn’t make a good future chef.

Part of that dream was to live in San Francisco, where my husband Dan and I dined out several days a week. I have never lost my enthusiasm for opening up new gastronomic experiences. That’s why I quickly ran to San Luis Obispo to check out the new (long-planned) SLOPublicMarket .com last weekend.

When we walked in there was a queue at Bing’s Bao Buns with about seven people waiting to order their favorite choice. Told Dan to go around and check out the place, then we’ll come back and stand in line.

The problem with this decision, the line had doubled and it was not going very quickly. We chose to eat at Baht (the name is the same name for currency in Thailand), a Thai fast food restaurant. Then we went to Bottlecraft, a beer and wine bar, to have a seat and a cold beer to enjoy with our food. The manager told me they were open but didn’t have the usual stock they have at their other breweries in San Diego and Los Angeles.

A customer was sitting next to us who had a large round take-out container of four or five Bing’s Bao Buns. As he feasted on those generous steamed buns, I could see they had a lot of stuffing, the specials that day being the crab and a veggie version with tofu.

I saw such buns which appeared to be mostly buns and little topping. I asked him how they were doing: “Great! He enthused, “I’ve had them before and love them.” Bing served them during the catering, from his home kitchen. This guy who liked them was a foodie like me, and we talked for a while about the best chefs on the Central Coast. Now I can’t wait to go back to try these decadent looking steamed buns.

As I picked up my order of Thai food, I heard the bun staff shout, “We’re out of buns!” When that happens, they close. There was a huge sigh of disappointment from the many people still online. After closing, I spoke with Bing’s wife and partner. She told me he made 350 buns, all hand rolled and usually makes 500 buns, and they sell out every day they’re open.

Currently they are only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from noon until they are full, which is in no time. That day, 350 buns were purchased in 90 minutes. She admitted that she always feels bad when she has to announce that they are sold out. They even chose to post an apology on their webpage at bingsbaobuns .com:

“Bings Bao Buns changes the menu every week. We do our best to manage expectations and would like to sincerely apologize to those who lined up without getting our buns. All the rolls are handmade with the greatest of care. We are a small family business and strive to increase the total number of buns every day. They always offer a catering service for private events.

It’s a good indication of more good things to come in this food court-like atmosphere at the SLO Public Market. At this point, you can already eat at Mama Ganache,

Central Coast Creamery, Neighborhood Acai & Juice Bar, Perfect Scoop Ice Cream and Veg on the Edge. You can expect a lot more great things to come!

Joshua B. Speller