By Gia Miller

Photography by Justin Negard

Waiters/waitresses are the world’s oldest influencers – they tell us what to eat (and drink) whenever we dine out. And we often take their advice without watching hours of their videos to determine if they’re trustworthy. We sat down with some of our local influencers to get to know the folks who influence our choices.

Johnson Cheng
“A little of everything,” 8 years
Tengda, Katonah

Do you consider yourself an influencer?
I don’t. I think food is a personal preference. It’s always about what you like. I can give you advice. I can give you a suggestion. But I can never influence what you really want.

What is it like to work as a server?
It’s about being honest. If the food is going to be spicy, tell them it’s going to be spicy. I’ll explain the different flavors because we have a lot of authentic ingredients and dishes. My number one rule is to always be honest.

What’s the best recommendation you’ve ever made?
A customer came in with her son, and he hadn’t had Asian cuisine before because he has severe allergies. She told me the situation, and I recommended something for her son, and he liked it. Every time they came back, they’d ask for me. They actually bought me a gift for Christmas.

What’s a recommendation you wish more people would take you up on?
Try the Thai curry! It’s good with a lot of things – noodles, rice – and it has so much flavor. It’s also great with any kind of protein.

What do you like about working at Tengda?
The coolest thing about working here is the customers. I have worked in Asian restaurants where they treat the employees like they’re working at a McDonald’s. But at Tengda, the people who come in actually treat you like family.

What’s your favorite dish?
The Thai curry sauce. You can pick and choose different noodles and proteins, but I like it with just rice, white rice. The sauce is so good that I like it by itself. But, sometimes I’ll throw shrimp or salmon on it.

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Justin is an award-winning designer and photographer. He was the owner and creative director at Future Boy Design, producing work for clients such as National Parks Service, Vintage Cinemas, The Tarrytown Music Hall, and others. His work has appeared in Bloomberg TV, South by Southwest (SXSW), Edible Magazine, Westchester Magazine, Refinery 29, the Art Directors Club, AIGA and more.

Justin is a two-time winner of the International Design Awards, American Photography and Latin America Fotografia. Vice News has called Justin Negard as “one of the best artists working today.”

He is the author of two books, On Design, which discusses principles and the business of design, and Bogotà which is a photographic journey through the Colombian capital.

Additionally, Justin has served as Creative Director at CityMouse Inc., an NYC-based design firm which provides accessible design for people with disabilities, and has been awarded by the City of New York, MIT Media Lab and South By Southwest.

He lives in Katonah with his wonderfully patient wife, son and daughter.