Jing Gao’s cupboards are stocked with premium Chinese staples and local Los Angeles brands.
Fly By Jing Chili Crisp, the sensational sensation from Jing Gao’s Sichuan line, is everywhere right now (and it almost felt like it was all at once). It’s available in virtually every small, hyper-stocked grocery store across the country (the “shops‘), but it’s also sold at big-box big-boys Target and, notably, Costco. It’s been an impressive rise for a brand that was only founded in 2018 by a former marketing executive turned spice queen. Fans of Gao’s spicy, crunchy, and mouth-dead spice often use it as a hot sauce to add flavor (and, in this case, texture) to a finished dish. But Gao first started by preparing and jarring her version of the Chinese pantry staple to minimize the prep effort for the supper club she formerly ran in Shanghai in 2016. One tablespoon of Chili Crisp—which contains fermented black beans and flavorings like ginger and shallots With garlic, water, and one tablespoon of Doubanjiang Chinese fermented chilli bean paste, you can make mapo tofu in five minutes.
“The reason why I founded Fly By Jing was because I love flavor and different forms of spices and spices are the best carrier for flavor,” says Gao. The pantry she keeps stocked at her quiet home in Van Nuys in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, which also serves as Fly By Jing’s efficient headquarters, is perfect proof – and a matter of legend. Housed in a six-foot-tall, two-door wooden cabinet, Gao’s pantry is stocked with aged vinegar, aromatic pastes, canned fish, spices galore and, of course, her own produce. (Some of her favorite ingredients are also kept in the fridge, like soy sauce and pickles.) “I just buy what I like and what I want to taste,” she says. “It’s really what I think I can cook with.”
Together with the flavorful Chili Crisp, the Fly By Jing Mala Seasoning for flavoring proteins, Chinese sesame paste to add density and fragrance to a dish, miso, three-year doubanjiang from Sichuan Pixian Douban Co., and a black vinegar aged for ten years are Gao’s most commonly used pantry items. She gets the latter two from Sichuan and sells them exclusively on her website. Of all, it’s the mild, balsamic aged vinegar that “works the hardest,” she says. It acts as a key acid layer in many Chinese recipes, from salad vinaigrettes to traditional Sichuan dishes like twice-cooked pork, which Gao says is all about balance, adding heat, sweetness, and spiciness as well. Another favorite from her stash are pouches of kayanoya dashi, which she uses as a shortcut for flavoring broths and making chawanmushi.
Originally from Toronto, Gao has lived in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore for ten years. She chose Los Angeles as the location for her company as it is closer to China. (Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a direct flight from Los Angeles to Chengdu.) The sunshine, thriving food scene, and strong community of consumer goods companies like her own also supported the decision. She advises a handful of other brands, including the Southeast Asian spice mix company Homiahthe makers of crispy black sesame paste Rooted TariffAnd Manila Tab, which specializes in Filipino sauces. “A lot of my supplies come from people in the community – I oversee a lot of emerging brands,” she says. In their collection, the various New Age products are easily recognizable with their colorful packaging and forward-thinking design. Think of spices diaspora co., Brightland Olive oils and honey (excellent for dressings), Ghia’s Ghianduja Hazelnut spread, chutneys and curries like tomato achaar from Brooklyn Delhisalted plums and syrups for use in cocktails from Oakland Yume headand cans of Fishwife (including hers collaboration can: Smoked Salmon Coated with Fly By Jing Chili Crisp) for an easy lunch.
At home, Gao enjoys throwing hot pot parties for friends from the food world Bricia Lopez (Owner of legendary LA restaurant Guelaguetza and author of Oaxaca: home cooking from the heart of Mexico) and Jell-O-Cake Phenomenon Lexi Park— mostly because she’s made it easy for herself by creating a hot-pot base for Fly By Jing. The broth in the Sichuan Hot Pot is spicy and aromatic – and the preparation is extraordinarily complex. “It’s made up of literally dozens of spices, herbs, traditional Chinese medicine herbs (like amomum and star anise), doubanjiang, and usually beef tallow, which is why it has such an intense flavor,” she says.
However, all she has to do is add water to the bottom of her hot pot, then chop veggies and add the meat along with sesame oil, which “makes it less intense and adds a layer of fragrance.” Gao loves Bullhead Barbecue Sauce Also as a dip for food after it has been cooked in a hot pot. The traditional hot sauce seasoning has a thick and oily consistency that’s great for dipping, and a fishy umami flavor that enhances the flavor.
The items in Gao’s pantry are really all about enhancing flavor. Their main pantry ingredients are their own brand as they save time preparing their favorite Sichuan dishes. Her other staples, many of which are made by other LA-based food manufacturers, allow her to cook and host with ease. Whether you’re using Sonoko Sakai’s curry powder to make Japanese curry or topping a plate of sliced fruit Jacobsen Salt Co.s last salt, Gao’s collection is a streamlined and comprehensively seasoned affair.