ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – If you’re a diehard foodie, you know all about the James Beard Awards. Often called the Oscars of the food world, these prestigious awards recognize the very best restaurants and chefs across the U.S. There’s one woman who’s been nominated for best chef in the Midwest for three years running.
Lona Luo Powers is a force in the kitchen. At Lona’s Lil Eats, there are no shortcuts. “I’m pretty stubborn this way. Haha,” said Lona Luo Powers. People line up to get a taste. “It’s always crowded and full of people. The food is phenomenal,” said one customer. “It is really something. It’s not like anyplace else,” said another customer.
Lona is from a tiny mountain village in southwest China. No electricity, no running water, and sometimes, no food. “We don’t have shoes or anything,” added Luo Powers. Lona moved to the U.S. at age 29 with her American husband. She knew she could cook, but she struggled to find work. “Instead of looking for a job, I just opened my own restaurant,” said Luo Powers. In 2014, she opened Lona’s Lil Eats in St. Louis. The menu is a throwback to her childhood. “Everybody was very proud of the food that they bring to the table,” said Luo Powers.
Her staples in the kitchen: her wok for high-temperature cooking, vegetable oil, soy sauce, specifically Kikkoman for her Lona ‘Q’ sauce. Fresh herbs, especially garlic, ginger, and cilantro, and cao guo—an aromatic Chinese spice. Luo said these are fundamental in the dishes she creates. “Must be something in the food, you know? People liked it,” said Luo Powers.
Lona first started selling her food in St. Louis at a farmer’s market on Saturdays. Foodies spread the word and started lining up around the block every weekend. She had never heard of the James Beard Awards when she was first nominated in 2018. She only found out about the awards when customers came in to congratulate her for being nominated. She is not only proud of her food, but her team. Everyone who works for her gets a living wage and full-time employees get health insurance.
Contributor(s) to this news report include: Stacie Overton-Johnson, Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.