UPTOWN — It was at a Chinese restaurant a few years back where Kent Thomas had a life-changing, if not entirely profound, culinary epiphany: What if egg rolls went beyond the traditional pork or chicken, and incorporated other foods?
It sounded like something he would eat, something that others would enjoy, he said.
The 50-year-old Uptown resident is the owner, chef and sole employee of Uptown Egg Rolls, which operates out of his apartment. He fills his crispy treats with locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients, rolls them by hand and either fries or bakes them depending on the recipe.
Adeshina Emmanuel joins DNAinfo Radio to discuss Uptown Egg Rolls:
The "American-Asian" fusion-style snacks include variations such as "Buffalo Rangoon" (buffalo chicken with ranch-spiced cream cheese), the "Carolina Sandwich" (pulled, barbecued pork with cole slaw) and the "Italian Garden" egg roll (squash, egg plant, zucchini and tomato basil paste). There's also egg roll renditions of mac and cheese, Sloppy Joes and shepard's pie.
"I just think of something that would taste good in an egg roll then I go into a test kitchen and try it," Thomas said. "Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work out the way I hoped. Some things do not translate."
So far he's tested his egg rolls out at festivals, as well as people at local dog park fundraisers and at Driftwood Bar in Uptown. He's looking to sell his crispy, rolled treats at farmer's markets this fall and winter, with the Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park at the top of his list.
He said he wants to use the markets as "a learning period of what the general public wants."
Thomas is considering doing pop-up shops in the city, but doesn't yet have anything set in stone. And a permanent brick-and-mortar operation or food truck is something he looks forward to down the line.
Thomas has worked in the hotel industry in banquets and food service where he learned "of the fancier side of food," but burned himself out, he said within "a very corporate environment." He left the industry and started a dog walking business Dramatic Paws, which has been alive for about a decade.
The idea for Uptown Egg Rolls has been three years in the making, but after working on the initiative on-and-off, Thomas said he's ready to "rev things up in the fall."
When he first started the business, he admits "I didn't know anything about egg rolls, I didn't know how to make an egg roll."
YouTube and Google were his "culinary trainers" he said.
"There's a lot of false starts involved when you're doing a new venture, a lot of test kitchen a lot of learning, a lot of mistakes," he said.
For more information about Uptown Egg Rolls, click here.