Magazine

First Person

Chef Asia Mei readies South Boston’s Moonshine 152

After years in Boston’s restaurant scene, she returns to a place she once worked — South Boston’s former Franklin Southie — to open her own eatery.

South Boston, MA - 01/12/15 - Asia Mei is opening her first restaurant, Moonshine 152, in South Boston. She is photographed in the kitchen, still under renovation. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: MAG Reporter: alt off Slug: 012515first
Lane Turner/Globe staff

When I was in high school I came out to Harvard for summer school and that was my introduction to the East Coast — and I loved it. Eventually I went to Boston College on a gymnastics and academic scholarship. I’d never cooked a thing in my life other than oatmeal and ramen, but I’ve always loved to eat.

A friend’s family who owned this sushi place in the Fenway called Naha Cafe asked me if I wanted to work there. I found a world of food and fine dining I had no idea about. I ended up working at Clio for a day: I’d never seen anything like it. They asked me if I knew how to make mayonnaise and I thought Well, do you mean how do you open the jar?

A week before graduation I called my family and told them not to come. I blew it off. Instead, I Googled all the four-star French restaurants in Boston. I walked into Hamersley’s Bistro and ended up talking with Gordon for three hours and I left four years later.

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When I became executive corporate chef at Whole Foods for all the Massachusetts stores, I didn’t think it would change my perspective on food, but it definitely did. Before that I was about everything salt, butter, and pork belly. But my focus switched to vegetables and grains. There’s sustainability in terms of the health of your customers.

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Everyone associates moonshine with alcohol — and that’s great, because I want people to realize the [new] bar is as important as the restaurant. But I remember when I used to work [at the former Franklin Southie] — it was a late-night restaurant, you’re there until 3 or 4 in the morning. I’d be cooking and I felt like I was working by the light of the moon.   

This interview was edited and condensed.

COMING SOON Moonshine 152 is scheduled to open on 152 Dorchester Avenue in early February. moonshine152.com