After more than two decades as one of Santa Fe’s favorite Asian restaurants, Mu Du Noodles closed last weekend. I caught owner Mu Jing Lau in a philosophical mood a few days before the last night of service.
SFR: Mu! I heard you're closing and I wanted to talk to you for a thing in the paper, to let everyone know what you're up to.
MJL: Are you sure you have time for this? We don't really have to do it.
Yes, Mu. People love you. They want to know what's going on with you. They're going to miss you!
There isn't much to talk about.
Well, I think there are a lot of people in Santa Fe who are about your age and many of them are retiring or embarking on a new chapter of their lives, wondering what they're going to do next, and they could really identify with you.
That's true. All the baby boomers getting are getting older. It's hard to face the idea that we may not have another chapter.
What made you decide to start a new chapter now?
I was getting older, I couldn't work 20 hours a day—and it was hard to get good help. I was so exhausted, and I realized it was time to go because every little thing was bothering me.
Did you have a succession plan?
My key people, one by one, all of my sergeants were disappearing, and I realized I couldn't really run it by myself. I was trying to sell the restaurant to an ex-chef of mine but he got other offers and he bowed out. Then I was going to give it to my employees but they didn't really step up. There were all of these signs. So I'm taking my cue from the universe.
You've had several careers.
I've had three! I was a woodworker. And then for my second career I was a computer engineer. At that time, in 1971, computers were just blossoming. So I was a systems analyst for maybe 15 years. And then I dropped out.
How did you come to cooking? Did you get bored with computers and want to do something fun?
I'm not a fun person. Fun is not in my vocabulary.
Shut up. You're fun! You're funny!
I'm very sarcastic. Anyway, I went to a philosophical group and they'd have work weekends and I noticed that I was able to cook pretty well. We'd seat 250 people and six of us would be doing one item and I was good at it.
Everybody said cooking was hard but I was like, "Oh, no! Not for me!" I thought I would be the exception to the rule. After being in this business for a few years I didn't think I was going to last, but 23 years went by so fast. In some ways I went into this sleepwalking, and I'm trying to be more awake walking out of it.
What will you miss?
I will miss bossing people around and spending time at the table with my customers. I probably won't ever see these people again. The restaurant was my social outlet and an outlet to express my curiosity about food. I think food is such an amazing vehicle for the human condition to express itself.
Now that you're not cooking in a restaurant, what will you do?
Well, my mother lives with me now. She's 91, and as she gets older I'm going to have to spend more time with her. The first couple of months I'm going to sleep a lot. I don't want to do much of anything. Reading food magazines, looking at YouTube videos, taking a nap: That's my idea of a great Sunday.
Will you go out to eat more often or cook at home more often?
You know, I'm not so sure my food is all that great, I just used great ingredients. I think that was my leg up. I really care about the food I present to people, and you have to use great ingredients. Even though I look Asian, I really didn't have a lot of experience with Asian food. I came to this country when I was 7 and I really wanted to assimilate, so it's interesting that I ended up making Asian food. Life is always kicking me in the ass.
Do you have any advice for chefs or restaurant owners who are just starting out?
Yes. Everything passes. You have your five minutes of fame and it doesn't last. When you have these moments when you want to close up you just have to stick it out five minutes longer. Nothing lasts.
Isn't it interesting that you were one of the first people to interview me when I started and now you're one of the last?
Stop it. You're making us both sound old.