Irene and Mei Li: Chefs and Co-founders of Mei Mei Restaurant Boston

Photo by Michael Piazza

The Li sisters creatively interpret traditional Chinese recipes at Mei Mei—their restaurant, food truck and catering company—and in their homes. They’re out to inspire home cooks to do the same. Traditional Chinese dumplings call for Chinese chives and Napa cabbage. But they ask: Why not use Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli stems, carrots? Instead of basil pesto, how about kale stem or spinach and walnuts or almonds?

Their forthcoming cookbook (with their brother/business partner Andrew), Double Awesome Chinese Food, features recipes influenced by their childhood and their home and business creations. The cookbook also addresses the prevalent problem of food waste, which led to Food Waste Feast, their online and social media campaign designed to help people reduce food waste.

“The cookbook is really the first step of Food Waste Feast,” Mei says. “We hadn’t quite conceptualized it as its own thing until after [the cookbook] but at our restaurant, we work to utilize everything that’s edible into our meals.”

Along with empowering the home cook, they’re committed to empowering their employees through open-book management, which is centered around financial transparency and staff participation and engagement in how business operates; ultimately, the goal is to profit-share. “The open-book mantra: To play the game well, you need to understand what the score is,” Irene says.

“What inspires me now is trying to figure out how we can make this industry a better place for women, a place where there’s access to capital and technical knowledge, and a place where women can actually own successful restaurants.”

This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue.