Danny Bowien, as GQ discovers in its December 2012 issue, is as much of a character as his inventive food would suggest. In his piece titled “Danny Bowein and the Electric Kung Pao Pastrami Test,” Brett Martin says the chef-turned-restaurateur runs Mission Chinese like a “Restaurant as Acid Test, a one-way ticket to Toontown.”

Martin carries this analogy further, describing the 30-year-old Bowien as “not un-Bugs-Bunny-like: slight of frame, graceful in motion, slyly mischievous, floppy on top.” He soon drops the cartoon reference to unpack various turning points in Bowien’s life—not just the ones that informed cheffy creations like kung pao pastrami and a mapo tofu riff more akin to chili, but also key moments in his more recent development as boss of a white-hot brand.

That mapo tofu in fact is emblematic of his approach: at once respectful of roots and surroundings, while demonstrating a fearless attitude towards exploration. Centered by his own travails in the industry—he comes from Oklahoma City and cooked his way up the ranks in San Francisco—he sets aside a budget in both time and money to take care of his staff, treating them perks like lunch at Peter Luger Steak House.

After stepping away from a range of vices familiar to chefs, Bowein says his goal is no longer to be the best, but rather to be a nice guy and maintain a happy kitchen so that he can “cook what [he] want[s] to cook.”

The GQ piece caps an unbelievable year of incredible press for Bowein and Mission Chinese (and the year-end lists haven’t even started dropping yet). This week, Bowein also got a big-ol’ profile in New York magazine that praises him for defining “our post-locavore moment,” and he and partner Anthony Myint recently made Food & Wine‘s “40 under 40″ list of influential up-and-comers.

[via GQ]