Chef-owner Curtis ‘The Chairman’ Lam dishes on the SF 49ers, halftime buns and fantasy ‘footbao’

They’re scrumptious, they’re easy to eat in the stands — and they’re even shaped like little footballs.

We’re talking about bao, the pillowy steamed buns folded over savory fillings. Chef-owner Curtis Lam and his San Francisco-based food truck called The Chairman have been serving their beloved-by-foodies, award-winning bao to 49ers fans for going on five seasons.

While the pigskin is soaring around the Levi’s Stadium field below, Lam and his crew are making Pork Belly Bao, with pork slices glazed in red miso, the richness cut by turmeric pickled daikon and green shiso. They’re topping marinated, fried Chicken Karaage strips with zesty sauces and piling cola-braised pork on their Loaded Fries.

Before the official season gets underway, we nabbed Lam for a chat about life in the vendor lane in Santa Clara:

Q Are you a football fan?

A The Chairman bleeds red and gold! Most of our team members are San Francisco natives, and we run an annual fantasy “footbao” league.

Q Does any other NFL team have a bao vendor?

A I’m not sure if we are the first to sell bao at NFL games, but I hope we’re setting a trend! Bao makes for a tasty game-day snack, and I think our fans at Levi’s stadium would agree.

Q Do 49ers fans have different bao preferences from regular Chairman devotees?

A Our Pork Belly Bao is still a fan favorite, but the Chicken Karaage Bun — Japanese-style fried chicken — is an item found only at our brick-and-mortar location in San Francisco and the main concession stand in Levi’s stadium.

FOSTER CITY, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 03: The Chairman food truck at the Off the Grid food truck event in Foster City, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
The Chairman food truck makes the rounds at Off the Grid food truck events, as well. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Q What’s your top seller at the games?

A Our best seller at Levi’s Stadium has got to be our Loaded Fries — crispy coated fries, topped with cola-braised pork and our popular spicy mayo and garlic aioli — only available at Levi’s Stadium

Q When is the bao rush? Do fans load up just before kickoff or wait until halftime?

A We typically see our rush during the 30 minutes leading up to kickoff and at halftime. But our team moves fast like Deebo after the catch, so just get in line!

Q Do they drown their Jimmy G sorrows with the pork belly bao or the karaage chicken?

A Jimmy G will be missed, but it’s time to celebrate the Trey era with a pork belly bao! Question is, does Trey Lance know what’s up with bao? We’d sure like to work a couple of them into his pre-game meal.

At The Chairman's booth, 49ers fans will find bao filled with miso-glazed pork belly, spicy chicken, tofu, pickled vegetables and more. (Photo courtesy of The Chairman)
At The Chairman’s booth, 49ers fans will find bao filled with miso-glazed pork belly, spicy chicken, tofu, pickled vegetables and more. (Photo courtesy of The Chairman) 

Q Do you typically sell out?

A Rarely do we sell out, but we have been tested. Loaded Fries were flying out of the kitchen last season.

Q Do you work the booth at games? Is it a long, grueling day?

A You will often find me in the trenches during games, working with our all-star team. A typical game day is about 10 hours, including our travel time from San Francisco.

Q Which stands do you eat at during the games? 

A I enjoy a refreshing Dole Whip at the Hula Truck stand on hot game days and a burrito from Iguanas always hits the spot.

Q Are the concessionaires competitive or all buddies?

A It’s a friendly environment within the concessionaires. We’re all in the trenches together, trying to pump out delicious food for all the hungry fans out there. You’ll find us exchanging fist bumps at the end of service and a little bit of food trading whenever possible.

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