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The Boy with the Blue Beard

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Art AND: Tracey Beale

At the beginning of the pandemic, Tim Chin adorned a Mount Vernon park fountain with an installation of balloons, a moment that brought joy and beauty in a time of despair and uncertainty. This particular park near the Monument is one of his favorites, and it has been the backdrop to many memories of love, brawls, sadness, and friendship. It’s also a portal from his present to his past, to childhood memories of taking the bus from West Baltimore with friends to explore downtown. He recalls walking down Park Avenue, “past what used to be old Chinatown, which is where I kissed my first boy, where I had my first relationship start,” he says. “I passed where I live now over and over.”

People recognize Chin—known to many as Chyno, aka the Boy with the Blue Beard, aka the Baltimore Foodie—first for his iconic, boldly-dyed beard and stylish hats and next for his generous warmth. Before I got to befriend him, I recognized his blue beard across the city, in various bars and restaurants. Chyno is many things at once: a food persona, a business owner, a cannabis advocate, a parent to an impressive plant collection, and through his work, he constructs better realities not only for himself but for many other people in this city, especially for marginalized folks.

 

Chyno in Mount Vernon park, shirt by Mess in a Bottle, balloons by Sentimental Fools Events
At home in Mount Vernon

Part of Chyno’s allure is that he allows you to be who you are because he is so fully who he is, exemplified by his outward appearance and specifically his beard, which is typically turquoise, sometimes pink, lilac, cherry red. “I utilize my beard as a way to continually spark conversation and color inside of all of these pockets and neighborhoods in which they won’t necessarily always see someone as vibrant or as verbose as I am,” Chyno tells me. For him, the beard is a symbol of self-expression, but it is also his armor. It helps him to face the world.

Chyno is a master of cultivating his own universe. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, he moved around with his parents who worked in the military, before coming to the United States. He spent his teen years in Texas until his mother died in 2004. After her death, he moved in with his grandparents in Baltimore, and since 2009 he has regularly traveled back and forth between here and his mother’s home of New York.

“My people are from everywhere,” says Chyno, a self-described “army brat” and a multiracial and queer person. His dad is Black and Chinese and his mother was white. His paternal roots are in West Baltimore. He grew up in Sandtown-Winchester projects, and he says that everyone in his family, all the way down to his great-great-great-grandmother Alice, who was freed from slavery in North Carolina, was baptized in the same Sandtown church.

“I don’t give off the vibe of such humble beginnings, but I am a very humbled person by my experiences,” Chyno says. “Baltimore is where I have found friends, where I found community, where I found business. It’s lucky for me that Baltimore happens to interconnect.”

 

Through his large and growing social media following, Chyno’s goal is to highlight local businesses and “curate how our city is looked at in regards to food” by forming partnerships with bars and restaurants and utilizing social media to post appetizing images. Anyone deciding where to eat on any particular day in Baltimore can just check his Instagram (@thebaltimorefoodie) to see where he has most recently visited.

Chyno states that, first and foremost, being able to help the community is his biggest source of comfort. “A lot of people recognize me in such a social-glamour style of way,” he says. “All of that’s well and fine, and that’s exactly what I do it for. My goal is to be a famous food personality. That is what I want. But that is not the entirety of who I am. The thing that brings me the most joy and the most comfort, the thing that fills my heart, is being able to serve the community.”

He is currently a co-owner and partner of Pinch Dumplings, located in the Mount Vernon Marketplace, where he began working after moving back to Baltimore from New York in 2015. At that time, he was dealing with alcoholism and crashing on a friend’s couch. “I was a mess,” Chyno recalls. “I went into the job interview, and I was intoxicated and [the owner] knew. The owner said to me, ‘You have all of the potential to be something great, get it together. And I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I thought that was God’s way of saying ‘get your life together.’”

Last year, after the extrajudicial killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the world again repeated a cycle of protest and outrage after Black death—an outpouring of catharsis that coincided with a global pandemic. In an act of putting your money where your mouth is, Pinch Dumplings gave Chyno a promotion to partner and co-owner, which he used to continue to advocate for his employees to earn $15 an hour, far ahead of state legislation that would raise the minimum wage to that level by 2025. (His efforts to raise their pay began before he became co-owner, however they are currently stunted by the restaurant’s lack of traffic, financial traction, and government aid.) He also made Juneteenth a paid holiday, offering workers a day of rest and reflection in honor of Black people who’d labored for years in Texas until they learned that they were free.

Along with his work at Pinch and his promotion of the Baltimore food scene, Chyno uses Instagram as a platform to advocate for mental health and medical cannabis. After 20 years of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, he says they stopped working for him and had a numbing effect. “Then I was drinking to feel sad because that was the only feeling that I could achieve,” he says. It is powerful for him, as a Black man, to publicly illustrate the benefits of cannabis, while simultaneously dispelling its misconceptions. His advocacy also compels us to think about the disproportionate number of Black men and women who are currently incarcerated for cannabis charges. “Having a morning J has been a lifesaver,” he says. “There is a huge stigma that weed makes you frumpy or slow or makes you smell crazy. Oh, that is a lie. I smell amazing. I smell like Burberry every day.”

 

This track record of advocacy, activism, and care for others began for Chyno in New York, after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. “I slept outside for a year in an army tent on Staten Island to do disaster relief,” he says. When people asked him why he chose to do this, the answer was because his parents instilled in him a respect for others and imparted the will to serve others who could not serve themselves.

“My mom, specifically, she taught me that if you have two legs to stand on, and you have two hands to do stuff with, you should be helping someone,” Chyno says. “It kind of always struck me as a person who is Black and gay in the world and didn’t receive a lot of help.” He hopes that his actions are a model for others. “If I am able, I’m going to continually show people that you can help, and that someone will always be there to help.”

After the pandemic hit, nearly everyone in every sector needed help. Chyno joined with his local dispensary, ReLeaf Shop, to give out meals to those in need in Mount Vernon. “It didn’t matter if you were in the houses, in the nursing homes, or whether you were in the high rises, whether you went to Hopkins, whether you are where I lived, no matter who you were, we were providing meals.” After this, he partnered with the Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund and helped feed unemployed restaurant workers and disburse grants to restaurants needing assistance.

The Chyno that you find at Mount Royal Tavern or Cindy Lou’s Fish House is no less authentic than the Chyno that recharges at home in his comfortable Mount Vernon apartment; they are simply different aspects of an emotionally rich and caring person. Throughout his home, portals and totems let him revel and help him cope. There are spots dedicated to his love for coffee and cocktails and to his affinity for Star Wars. His walls are adorned with the art of local artists, many of them gifted to him by service-industry folks. Legos are assembled and displayed throughout, museum-like. Perfectly symmetrical in his living room is his comic book collection—a clear analog to his universe-building, his exploration of fantasy and imagined worlds near and far.

His home is a place where he can be more tender, intimate, and direct than the glittery persona that visits restaurants and bars across the city. On Mondays, Pinch is closed, and Chyno devotes the day to self-care rituals. He takes off his armor, removing the color from his beard, applying a face mask, and shaving. “It’s also the day that I prune and treat my plants,” he says. “I wipe all of their leaves weekly. I talk to them, I check their water and soil. I feed them nutrients. I shift them around so that they’re getting light.”

 

Chyno at the Greenhouse at Good Neighbor in Hampden

This story is from Issue 11: Comfort,

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