Travail Kitchen and Amusements chef and co-owner Bob Gerken credits Springfield-style cashew chicken, invented in his home state of Missouri, for inspiring him to open a restaurant.
A staple where Gerken grew up, the dish is a deep-fried riff on the original recipe created by an enterprising Chinese immigrant in the 1950s. His version became so popular that it spawned dozens of small mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants in the area.
“My friend’s parents owned some of these places, made money off this dish, and had really good lives,” he said. “Plus, it was so cool that we could walk in and eat for free.”
Gerken was also influenced by his Filipino mother, who cooked from scratch every day: Midwest staples like steak and mashed potatoes for her American husband and four kids, plus the food she loved — fish, rice, homemade pickles and stir-fries.
Kitchen table wisdom
But it’s his dad,