Returning to his hometown Hong Kong, he discovered the ancient art of dragon beard candy that charmed him as a child was on the brink of extinction as a direct result of the cultural revolution. By the late 80s, there were maybe four dragon beard masters left in Hong Kong. One of them was Chin's brother, who bribed a disgruntled elderly master into sharing the secret of the dragon beard for $5,000.
Apprenticing under his brother, Chin perfected the art -- one that apparently can take months to years to master -- and then returned to Montreal in 1991, intent on introducing the theatrical candy-making skill to North America, concerned that part of his heritage would vanish. Chin said to The Gazette in 1991: "That's why I want to make the candy -- to preserve part of my culture." He was also smitten by the idea of being able to interact with the community in ways he never could as a number-crunching controller.
Almost twenty years later with two children in tow -- who aren't yet sure if they want to follow in Dad's footsteps -- Johnny Chin is working seven days a week in his Chinatown shop and thanks to his customers -- an assortment of tourists and locals -- he's picked up Italian and Spanish, in addition to speaking fluent English, French and his first language, Cantonese.
After enjoying the show and indulging in a couple of candies, each under one dollar, Johnny Chin generously shared with me how he makes this rare candy, a morsel of imperial history that must be eaten fresh in one mouthful to feel each delicate thread melt into the chewy center.