DANNA HWANG SPENDS much of her workdays bouncing back and forth on Interstate 90 like a shuttlecock between Seattle’s two lakes. As the executive chef at China Harbor on Lake Union and at the smart new Asian fusion bistro, Vivienne’s, on Mercer Island — two capacious restaurants that hold hundreds of people each — her phone is almost never silent, even on her days off. Which is why, when she has downtime, she high-tails it out of cell range and heads to the wilderness.

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Hiking in the mountains is how this diminutive dynamo recharges. It’s a pastime her whole family enjoys. Sons Jordan, 26, and Darren, 21, grew up hiking and fishing. Danna’s husband, Paul Hwang, chronicles the frequent family outings in photos and videos that Danna posts on her Instagram account @chef_danna. Amid panoramic shots of lavish China Harbor banquets and mouthwatering close-ups of Vivienne’s burnished roast duck and spoon-tender braised short rib, you’ll see Danna skipping joyfully through fields of wildflowers in shorts and knee socks, hopscotching on rocks across a stream or cradling wild berries in her stained hands. These are priceless moments to her. “It’s something you can’t buy. Real family time together with no technology, no devices.”

Danna learned to cook as a child in Canton, China, where she made the rice every night for dinner. Her mother would make the stir fry. One night, her mother was late getting home, and 6-year-old Danna decided to cook snow peas herself. She didn’t know to put oil in the pan, and they quickly burned over the open fire. A neighbor came to the rescue.

Danna was a teenager when she arrived in Seattle with her family. After high school, she was a hostess at the hallowed, now-gone Chinese restaurant Four Seas when she met Paul, new in town from Southern California and just launching his chiropractic career. She offered to show him around. The first place she took him was Alki, but he found her far more interesting than Seattle’s idea of a beach.

Catering was Danna’s path to becoming a restaurant chef. Her first executive chef position was at Bellevue’s Peony Kitchen. In early 2021, China Harbor owner Thomson Zhao tapped her to launch Vivienne’s. When pandemic-related construction issues delayed that opening, Danna threw her considerable energy and creativity into revamping 28-year-old China Harbor.

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The long hours that restaurant work requires taught her to set physical limits. On their family hikes, which average 5 or 6 miles, she’s the one who sets the pace, stopping often, even though it slows the whole team. She believes it’s important not to force your body to do more than it’s capable of.

Danna is also the one who makes sure Paul carries his asthma inhaler. She was not along on the hot summer day in 2020 when he and Darren went fly-fishing together on Mount Rainier. Paul suffered an asthma attack on the trail, and his inhaler was in the car. Within 15 minutes, he felt pain in his chest, jaw and arm. He doesn’t remember the hike back to the car. He woke up at Overlake Hospital, where doctors treated him for a heart attack. Overexertion, plus the asthma attack and the altitude, had put too much strain on his heart.

The family hasn’t ventured back to Mount Rainier since, but other places are once-a-year musts: Rachel Lake (for the trout!), Cooper Lake near Cle Elum (more trout!) and Twin Lakes on Winchester Mountain near Mount Baker (berries!). Water always beckons, because they all enjoy fishing (mostly it’s catch-and-release, though they’ll often keep one fish to cook on the spot).

Usually, though, a pot of protein-rich noodle soup built on a base of packaged ramen sustains them on their mountain forays. Like the menu at Vivienne’s, and the Hwangs themselves, the soup merges Asian cultures. Ramen noodles, a pillar of Japanese cuisine, originated in China and were brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century. Danna prefers the piquant Korean brand, Shin Ramyun, a nod to Paul’s heritage: His family immigrated to the United States from South Korea when he was 6 years old. Gyoza pork dumplings add extra heft and flavor. And while she might occasionally forget to pack one of the soup ingredients, Danna never hits the trail without chopsticks.

Chef Danna’s Deluxe Mountain Noodle Soup

With a little home prep, this soup comes together outdoors in a little more time than it takes to boil water, which is about 5 minutes with the MSR WhisperLite Universal camp stove the Hwangs use. The recipe is flexible. Toss in some baby greens, sliced jalapeño or kimchi, as Danna often does. Omit the meat and include frozen scallops or more shrimp for an all-seafood version. The frozen ingredients do fine in a cooler, she says, but pack them in ice if it’s a very hot day.

Prep time at home: about 15 minutes
Cook time: about 10 minutes (once the water boils)

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Serves 2

Ingredients
2 eggs
Soy sauce
1 bunch green onions, chopped
½ pack enoki mushrooms, rinsed, ends trimmed and pulled apart
1 small zucchini, quartered, cut into 2-inch strips
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 packs instant ramen noodles (Danna uses Shin Ramyun)
½ pound raw rib-eye beef steak, thinly sliced (buy presliced rib-eye at H-Mart or Uwajimaya, or slice at home) 
4 frozen dumplings, any type (Danna prefers Shirakiku Gyoza pork dumplings)
6 frozen shrimp, peeled or unpeeled as you like

At home: Fry 2 eggs to medium well. Add ½ teaspoon of soy sauce to the pan just as they finish frying, and caramelize slightly. Season with pepper, top with green onion and pack in a container to go.

On the trail: Bring about 2½ cups of water to a boil (more if you want a brothier soup). Add the ramen noodles, the soup base packet from the ramen noodles, vegetables and proteins. Simmer for a few minutes until everything is cooked or warmed through. Top with fried eggs and chopped green onions.