Gene Wu grew up in Xi'an, the capital of China's Shaanxi Province. The land-locked, mountainous region in central China is too dry to grow rice, so wheat is the staple of choice. In fact, the region is famous for its flatbread and hand-pulled noodles. Practically growing up in his grandparent's restaurant, these culinary mainstays hold special meaning for Gene. He was only seven when he started working there, doing dishes, washing the floor, but he always aspired to make noodles. " It was my childhood dream."
Wu came to the United States in 1997 to study chemistry. After working as a chemist for 12 years, he was ready for something else. As he tells it, he and several friends from his hometown were feeling homesick, especially for hand-pulled noodles. "I can make them for you!" Gene and his wife hosted about 30 people and served the foods of home. Soon after, he opened Gene Wu's Flatbread Café in Chelmsford, Massachusetts and it has been a hit ever since. Seating just 24, the storefront restaurant specializes in a small menu of freshly made authentic dishes which Wu learned from his grandfather. It is the males in his family through which culinary tradition is passed. However, Wu's daughter Ava has taken an interest in pulling noodles.
Called "biang, biang mian," these broad noodles are made from dough that is cut, rolled out, and stretched. It' a dramatic thing to see, as Gene pulls the dough to arms' length, flings it in the air and thwacks it down on the counter with great force. After repeating this several times, he separates the stretched dough strands before thwacking them again and then drops them into a pot of boiling water. The simplest of ingredients (flour, water, and salt)are transformed into velvety smooth, chewy noodles which are then dressed in hot oil, cilantro, crushed cayenne pepper, and minced garlic.