Thursday, November 29, 2007

Can Asian People Cook?

In the immortal words of Mookie (portrayed by Spike Lee in my all-time favorite movie, "Do the Right Thing"), "Yo Sal, how come there ain't no brothas up on the wall?" is repeated refrain and the genesis of an eventual race riot involving African Americans and a pizzeria owned by Italian Americans in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The overwhelmingly black patrons are not represented on the pizzeria's "Hall of Fame" reserved for Italian Americans.

Beginning with my grad school roommate who would bootleg copies of all the Japanese Iron Chefs, Food Network has changed my life. It made me want to cook and showed me it could look easy even when it isn't for me. I think cooking makes people healthier and its become a creative outlet. There is more Food Network on my TIVO than anything else. That aside, it started to dawn on me that everyone on food network was European American. It hit me most strongly when I watched the Swedish (by way of Cameroon) Chef Marcus Samuelssohn, Canadian Caribbean Grill Master Rob Rainford, and then Australian Hong Kong Chef Kylie Kwong on the Discovery Home Channel within the span of one and a half hours. This was more people of color cooking than I'd ever seen on Food Network.

Yes, Ming Tsai used to have a show and a few African Americans used to or still host shows. But in 2007, how does a channel devoted to something as uniquely cultural as food look as lily white as "Birth of a Nation"? (I swear they started offering Simply Delicioso after I complained to them directly!)

Yes, Emeril sometimes drops some egg rolls and Tyler Florence might stir fry a bit but isn't there some sense of "authenticity" in having a cultural lineage. Isn't this why I'm seated next to the window in Chinese restaurants? I would argue the most publicized chefs that cook Latin food are Rick Bayless, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, and Bobby Flay. Where is the Latin in Latin food?

Where is the Asian food? China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia have nothing to offer to the culinary world? Tell that to the takeout industry.


MetroDad said...

Fuck! I just wrote this long comment that got erased. It was brilliant (trust me!) Just kidding.

Anyway, the gist of my comment was that you shouldn't necessarily judge the popularity of ethnic chefs by the standards of the general population or the viewership of the Food Network.

The Food Network's take on ANY ethnic food reminds me of the movie Ratatouille, where they create that line of international fast foods.

"Easy to cook, easy to eat! Gusteau makes Chinese food...Chin-easy!"

In NYC alone, Asian chefs like David Chang, Anita Lo, Nobu Matsuhisa, Masa Takayama, Koji Imai , and the Matsushita brothers are revered like food gods. Around the rest of the country, chefs and serious foodies all recognize the amazing cooking being done by talents like Richard Chen, Takashi Yagihashi, Luke Sung, Hiro Urasawa, and my good friend Edward Lee.

In Asia, the concept of a celebrity chef is very rare (except possibly in China.) However, it's interesting to see that restaurants like Jade on 36 in Shanghai are slowly starting to pop up on lists of the best restaurants in the world. Equally surprising is the cult following of small, local chefs like Chun on Jinxian Lu.

Also, I think the enormous popularity of Latin chefs like Aaron Sanchex and Isabel Cruz demonstrate that not everyone is learning to cook Latin food from Bobby Flay.

Screw the Food Network (except Paula Dean. I love that woman. How has nobody in her family had a heart attack yet?)

Sugarbread said...

Ming Tsai is HOT!!!!

SoulSnax said...

Okay, ricedaddies... may I propose a big F.U. to FoodTV by creating our own cooking videos and embedding them on this site?

I'm serious. I know you guys are no scrubs, and can totally roll with it.

thisislarry said...

three words: Yan. Can. Cook.

christina said...

I second that, Ming Tsai is a cutie...and as for Yan...well, it's nice that he forged a path for the others but really, is his accent real or not? I keep hearing that it's just for the show, anyone know?

RakuMon said...

I've heard the rumor that Martin Yan's accent is fake. I never understood where that came from though. I never found anything exaggerated about his accent; it always sounded authentically Cantonese American to me. Seriously, he sounds like my dad. BTW, as a kid my father used to mimic his "Yan can cook" delivery while bragging about how he chop vegetables way faster than Yan. (Full disclosure: I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in rural VA.)

Dad said...

I noticed this myself in Australia. There are the few guest chefs on cooking shows but considering how large the Asian community is down here it is mad that we dont have an Asian style show on. Not that any Asian people are allowed much on our television screens, good old white Australia policy still rearing its ugly head.

Time to call the TV stations again and vent.

Robyn said...

There is an article on Ming Tsai and Padma Lakshmi in East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture. Thought folks might be interested in it.

No disrespect to the host of Simply Delicioso, but doesn't she look a lot like Rachael Ray? I'm just saying that they picked the most assimilable Latina they could find.

Soccer Dad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Soccer Dad said...

Yo Maestro,

Buggin' Out, played by Giancarlo Esposito, says those words, not Mookie.

I interviewed Ming Tsai once. Nice guy but can be very brusque. He corrected my pronunciation of "mise en place" and at one point said out of distraction "Does this interview have any direction?"

I asked him "If George Bush, Yao Ming and the NY Times food reviewer showed up at the same time for the last remaining table, who would get it?" He replied diplomatically: "Whoever was there first. I don't play favorites."