Part of Rich Cho’s job as general manager of the Charlotte Hornets is to distinguish good from great and great from excellent.
Basketball isn’t the only subject on which Cho is discerning that way. He’s a foodie, as many of us are. The difference is Cho’s job takes him all over the country and often all over the world. So he asks around wherever he goes where to eat well. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s fine dining or a hole-in-the-wall eatery.
He decided it would be fun to share that passion, so he built a food-oriented website he launched in July called bigtimebites.com Through that website, he can recommend where you should eat and you can make recommendations as well.
Two things Cho didn’t want from “Big Time Bites” that are typical of the food-review culture: He made the site individual dish-oriented, rather than restaurant-centric; he didn’t want negativity. Everyone has different tastes, and he avoids the site trashing of dishes someone else found delicious.
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Cho’s engineering background came in handy for this project: One of his early accomplishments in the NBA was building a database of players around the world for the then-Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder). He strived for “Big Time Bites” to be user-friendly.
It’s a family project. Cho’s wife, Julie, a former attorney, helps maintain the site. Cho’s Twitter account – @bigtimebites – features a picture of Cho surrounded by his two daughters.
The site bills itself the “Arena for Food Scouts,” and everything about it is sports-themed. For instance, the rating system: “Rotation,” “Starter,” “All-Star,” “Franchise,” and “Hall-of-Fame.”
Cho describes a “Hall-of-Fame” dish as food that “should be on your bucket list before you die.”
What qualifies as that delectable? Cho invited me to dinner in Boston during the Hornets’ recent four-game road trip. He suggested Ostra, a seafood-oriented restaurant that is one of his favorites.
I was handed a menu; I declined to order. If this was a restaurant Rich Cho loves, I was going to eat whatever he ate.
So here is Cho’s “Hall-of-Famer” at Ostra: Sea Bass Tartare. If you’re OK with raw fish, this is exceptional: sweet and light in texture, and tastes just how fish should be enjoyed. The restaurant serves it with crostini that are so thin they’re thread-like.
The first time I had dinner with Cho was March 2012 in New Orleans. Coincidentally, the place he suggested – NOLA – is one of my favorite restaurants. When he heard that, he playfully told me to order, testing my culinary chops.
I selected drum, a fish common to Louisiana waters, whole-roasted and injected with a garlic-butter mixture. Cho approved. I passed the test of admission, I guess.
Cho and I talk food every so often, as do many others around the NBA. I suspect at least half the Hornets’ staff – both basketball and business side – has asked him for tips before traveling. Charleston, for instance, is a town where he can point you to a dozen great meals.
With all this talk of “sea bass” this or “tartare” that, you might be thinking “food snob.” Not at all. Cho loves a good burger or slice of pizza just as much as haute cuisine. When the Hornets made their preseason trip to China in 2016, Cho brought along his brother and they explored street food. In a funny video for the team website, Cho and his brother ate scorpion, spider and deep-fried snake.
Cho, 52, was born in Burma (now named Myanmar). He loves the food of that Southeast Asian country, a mix of Asian and Indian flavors.
One of Cho’s great finds is a couple in Southern California who cooks Burmese food for the public on weekends. It’s definitely one of those “have to know where you’re going” spots, with seating for maybe 10 patrons. Cho loves their food so much that they sometimes ship it to him frozen.
When Cho likes something, he’s been known to indulge. He once ate three helpings of that Sea Bass Tartare.
All this rich food has to hit him in the waist line, right? Not really. The svelte Cho weighs within 5 pounds of what he did in college.
Why can’t we all have one of those metabolisms?