Nashville native Arnold Myint is busy man, and Suzy Wong is a busy woman.
While overseeing four successful eateries, PM and Cha Chah on Belmont Boulevard, Suzy Wong’s House of Yum on Church Street, and AM@FM inside the Nashville Farmer’s Market, Arnold also finds time to lend a hand to a wide range of local charities. As his drag queen alter-ego, Suzy Wong is equally involved around the city as the spokesperson for the House of Yum and a fixture at charity events in her own right.
After his run on Top Chef: D.C. in 2010, Arnold found himself pursued by producers interested in capitalizing on his visibility. With funding from a major cable network, Arnold the industrious chef and Suzy the glamorous maven are ready to start production on a new television show intended to inform and entertain. Out & About Newspaper sat down with Arnold Myint at his stylish home on Belmont Boulevard as he transformed into Suzy Wong for our cover shoot.
Out & About Newspaper: You’ve spent most of your life in Nashville on Belmont Boulevard, which has always been a center of creative energy in the city. How has living in this part of the city influenced your career as a chef and more recent foray into becoming a drag queen?
Arnold Myint/Suzy Wong: Growing up on Belmont Boulevard, which is a really cool street, I was exposed to a very cosmopolitan circle of family friends. My mom was artsy and had a lot of gay friends and introduced me to a very open minded community.
O&AN: You were a professional ice skater before going to culinary school in New York City and after graduating returned to Nashville and your first job running a kitchen at PM. Were your parents influential in that career change?
AM/SW: I had originally planned to go to design school and started classes at TSU where my dad taught. But then skating took over, so I quit school and eventually went on tour.
I was skating professionally on a cruise ship when a dancer in a show was injured. Not all skaters can also dance, but I could, and since we happened to be the same size, I became his replacement. An agent came on board who encouraged me to pursue musical theater in NYC, where, at the time, a lot of roles for Asian performers were being cast.
Despite little formal dance training, I was able to get some call backs, but ultimately didn’t see musical theater as the path for me. I did want to stay in New York, however, so I called my parents and talked them into sending me to culinary school and continuing to support me so I could stay there and play.
My mother was a big reason why I came back to Nashville. She opened PM in an effort to get me back here, even though I wanted to stay in New York and keep cooking under other chefs and pay my dues a bit. Moving back to take over PM was premature, but here at the end of the day I am.
O&AN: Did Suzy Wong materialize as you conceived House of Yum or had you already performed as a drag queen?
AM/SW: As an ice skater I was exposed to great costumes and makeup and dabbled in drag under the name Crystal Mess when I was on tour. But that was more “bad drag” and not really the kind that sells. When I first I got involved with the owners of PLAY and Tribe on Church Street, I saw the stages and the costumes and loved them. At that time, I wasn’t really in the gay world much, but as I was getting into it, I thought it was time to bring out my own drag character. Marketing-wise it seemed kind of genius to have Suzy Wong be the restaurant spokesperson.
O&AN: How do you see Suzy integrating more into Arnold’s world?
AM/SW: I think the really great thing about Suzy Wong is that she and Arnold live side-by-side. I mean, look at me, I’m putting on makeup here on Belmont Boulevard, and I walk out of this house probably ten times a month like this. I don’t live a double life.
In Suzy’s backstory she is a wealthy kept woman, a smart and articulate socialite. Her passion and purpose in life are to raise money for charities and be a spokesperson and an advocate for youth, and a positive role model — all things that Arnold also aspires to be.
O&AN: Suzy and Arnold have both been involved in Nashville Fashion Week and are both active in local charities. Are people associating the two of you more lately?
AM/SW: Many people reference me as Arnold or Suzy interchangeably. And it’s cool to have what one might consider a fairly conservative town openly embrace what I do. But I’m comfortable with it, so if I’m not worrying about drawing attention to myself, why should anybody else?
O&AN: You competed on Top Chef two years ago and now are moving toward a return to television. How did this new opportunity unfold?
AM/SW: After doing a show like Top Chef, all of these creative people approach you with ideas. I’ve been meeting with some great people in L.A. and we’ve been working on a lifestyles program starring Arnold Myint, the chef, and Suzy Wong, the domestic diva.
It will be shot on green screen and will focus on our relationship and banter, and will showcase Suzy in a very campy way. It’s a cooking show and a lifestyle show, though part of it is trying to brand a product line.
My ultimate goal is to create a non-profit organization, and it’s easier to raise the funds for that with a recognizable name. So the first step is a TV show.