Ed Schoenfeld shares his ideas on Asian Fusion

Ed Schoenfeld is a restaurateur with an expertise on Asian food.  He shares some insights and gives us a preview of his new, upcoming project, Red Farm.  Meet Ed tomorrow at Asian Fusion Confusion tomorrow at 1:45.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?
It’s a good form for me to talk about an area that I’m very knowledgeable about and share that with people in the community who have a mutual set of interests and concern. It’s a field that I’ve worked in for many years at this point, it’s kind of in my heart and it’s something that I love. I just find that simple. Just sharing knowledge and interacting with people who have similar tastes that they’re very knowledgeable and excited about.

You will be discussing Asian fusion at the festival. What is your definition of Asian fusion and why do you think there is such confusion regarding the term?
In some parts of Asia, fusion food has been the norm. In Hong Kong for years there has been a whole variety of cultures there. The Chinese diaspora has created all kinds of mixes of Chinese food. In Malaysia there is Malay Chinese food. In Brooklyn, you can find West Indian Chinese food, not to mention in the West Indies. You can’t say one is good or one is bad because it’s a mix of flavors, a mix of techniques. I don’t know how interesting the topic of fusion food is. I’m more interested in talking about how good someone’s cooking is. In reality, anyone who cooks on a regular basis has probably been influenced by a variety of experiences. Just because we say someone has been influenced by Indian food and Malaysian food and Cantonese food and we call that fusion – is that so different than someone who has been influenced by Spanish food and French food and Italian food? There’s a lot of crossover in this world, so I think the term fusion is useful only to a very limited extent. It describes a mixture of cuisines. After that, what’s being mixed? How well do they cook? Someone is a pretty terrific cook whether he’s cooking straight up Cantonese food or something else. I care about the technique they use to cook. How good is the texture? How good is the flavor? How can they make money selling it? Can it create excitement? All that factors into it when you look at it from a business point of view. Fusion is a word that describes a mixing of styles, but it can have so many meanings. It can be good or bad, and at a certain point it becomes a little on the silly side. We talk about NYC being a melting pot – do we have fusion food here? I have a more existential viewpoint. It is what it is.

As a well known NYC restaurateur, what is the main thing that you are looking for when you are creating and imagining new restaurants?
Success. Restaurants are businesses. They are complex living and breathing entities because of the people who have to work together. There’s a different group of people involved in putting together and creating a new restaurant and there’s a separate group of people involved in operating a restaurant. When I put projects together, I look to create a lot of synergy between the concept and the look and the cooking and the hospitality and the marketing. It’s when restaurants are thought through, coordinated on those levels and hit the market the right way that they are most successful. So when I work on a project, I work for different types of clients and different situations. Typically each client has a set of strings that they bring to the table. It varies greatly from one client to the next. Some are very experienced restaurateurs, but maybe don’t know very much about Asian food. I may have Asian clients who are the reverse of that – who know a great deal about the cuisine they’re selling and the business they’re in, but not so much about how to market it or how to create a restaurant that is effective in terms of creating sales and building regular business and repeat customers. It’s understanding what the client brings to the table and understanding what their needs are, kind of creatively approaching each individual situation and making an assessment of what the goal of the client is, what constitutes success in the particular situation, understanding what strengths the client has in place already, and what needs the client has that I can analyze and understand, and supply.

You’re known to have a vast knowledge of Chinese food. What do you enjoy most about Chinese food? Do you have a favorite Chinese dish? Is there any Chinese food that you do not like?
There are definitely foods that I don’t like. I’m about to go to Taiwan tomorrow, and one of the main street foods there, Stinky Doufu, I really don’t like that. It smells putrid to me. The smell is enough to get me walking two blocks away. The first time I encountered it, it made me ill to smell it. Not unlike maybe someone with a durian or something, it was really a bad taste. Not even a bad taste, the smell was overwhelming for me. I know how you could eat it, I haven’t eaten it in a long time. The smell is overwhelming. Fermented doufu is not something I really like.

As far as a favorite, it would be hard to say. I like many, many things. As years have gone by in the business and I’m exposed to more and more food, my taste tends to be simpler. There’s not one dish that I crave all the time – it’s more that I crave for terrific cooking. Of course, being interested in Chinese food, I’m interested in textures. I do like a variety of textures in my food. I appreciate a lot of the subtle textures or not so subtle – very pronounced textures that you encounter in Chinese cooking.

Out of the Chinese regional dishes, which one is your favorite?
I don’t have one. As I get older, I can’t eat spicy food as much, so I wouldn’t be as excited eating a Sichuan dinner. My mouth doesn’t handle it so well. To me, it’s really a question of who cooks well. These days, I’ve been working with dim sum chef Joe Ng. I set up a kitchen a few years ago called Chinatown Brasserie which is a pretty Caucasian restaurant in terms of clientele, but Joe’s dim sum work is superb.

What sorts of innovations do you think are happening in the Asian food scene?
In the Chinese food scene, things have changed in mainland China so much. Once we have the change in the daily life of the people there and the cultural revolution winding down – that period of history had a large effect on Chinese cooking. Not a great effect, I don’t think. The best chefs couldn’t practice for decades, if they remained in China. Recently, China has risen so dramatically and has grown richer, there’s a corresponding growth in the culinary scene. The amount of worldliness that Chinese chefs have experienced. Suddenly we have a generation of chefs that are cooking for Chinese customers that are excited about the food and proud of their cultural heritage. At the same time have possibly had a chance to travel or experience other cuisines from different parts of the world that they might not have done a generation earlier. There’s more variety of products being used and just less of a provincial view. As long ago as six or seven years ago when I was in Beijing, I saw chefs cooking with saffron and goose liver – kinds of foods they might not have normally integrated into their cooking, but that’s all happening now. The world is smaller. If you’re a chef in NYC, chances are you have to cook some Cantonese food and some Americanized and some authentic Sichuan food. It’s changed and different. There’s more crossover. You go into a Chinese restaurant and there are dishes that resemble Vietnamese Pho or you go into a Vietnamese restaurant and they have dishes that have a very heavy Chinese influence. The world is just a small place in that sense. I think in China it’s very exciting because there’s more wealth, and more investment in the restaurant business. There’s more disposable income, so there’s more money for people in the industry. Competition begets creativity. When there’s competition, suddenly there’s better product, better design. It’s an interesting cuisine.

Tell us more about your new project, “Red Farm”.
I’m opening up a new business in partnership with chef Joe Ng. Joe is going to continue to oversee the kitchen there. He and I are working full time on a business called Red Farm. In the immediate future, we’re opening up two locations. Our primary location that we operate is a small restaurant on Hudson street, a contemporary Asian restaurant rooted in Cantonese and Chinese cooking. It’s not striving to be authentic, nor is it shying away from fusion. We may have a mixture of cultures there. We’re just interested in serving very delicious, very sensible, seasonable, sustainable Asian food made with better quality ingredients – especially made with Joe’s superior technique. The idea is just to make delicious and flavorful food. Red Farm is going to be a small restaurant that Joe is going to cook in full time. It’s going to feature some of Joe’s strengths which clearly would be dim sum and dumpling production. I think you’re going to find some really fun stuff there. It’s going to be open in the middle of November.

Akiko Katayama: From Finance to Food

Meet Akiko Katayama, food journalist and Iron Chef judge formerly from the world of finance.  She’ll be speaking on the panel discussion “Rice: The Long and Short of It” with Jay Weinstein at 1:45PM.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?
Asian cuisine tends to be captured as one big category in many parts of the US. The festival can bring us to the real face of Asian cuisine: tremendous flavor diversity between (and within) each region, profound tradition, intriguing cooking methods. With my Japanese background, it is fun to be a part of the festival as an insider, as well as an outsider to learn about different Asian cuisine other than Japanese. The festival offers a great and rare opportunity to taste a number of real authentic dishes from Asian countries in one place, and I hope this will be the first of many events to celebrate Asian cuisine.

What inspires you? Who inspired you to become a journalist? How did you get involved in world of Japanese cuisine?
Since I was very young, I have always enjoyed writing. My interest in food started when I backpacked all over Europe and got to taste quite a few exotic dishes. I worked in finance and consulting before, but I was not really excited about my work. So one day I started writing about food and sent it to a publisher. That was the beginning of my career as a food journalist. I grew up eating Japanese food in Japan, so naturally Japanese cuisine is in my DNA as well as my taste memories.

You have been a judge on Iron Chef multiple times. What’s your favorite part of judging on that show?
As a food writer, I constantly interview chefs in NYC and taste their dishes, but it is hard to meet chefs outside the city. The show allows me to taste some of the best dishes from all over the US. Also, I really enjoy feeling the passion of chefs. Their eyes are sparkling with anxiety, pride and love for their job. You don’t get to see that in a normal restaurant setting.

Can you fill us in a bit regarding your job as food advisor to the Japanese government?
Through the Japanese government organizations, I support small artisanal food producers in Japan by providing them with advice on how to bring their products to the US market. On day we get trouble with our supplier and need to looking for a short term loan. I begin to search instant payday loan from direct lenders on paydayloansat.com. I filled easy application on site and got about 5 offers from payday loans lenders. This job is really fun. I get to visit local areas in Japan and speak at seminars for traditional food producers such as miso, sake, tea, etc. Many of them have family business for generations, and they need help to survive. I learn so much about their great products, and feel strongly that we (as consumers) have to preserve their precious tradition, and pass it onto the next generation.

What’s your favorite Japanese food? Is there any food that you don’t like?
It is tough to pick one since I enjoy eating everything. I would say sushi is my favorite for the oceanic flavor of seasonal fish. I also love the unique woody scent of an authentic sushi restaurant. To me that is an important part of my sushi tasting experience.

New Chinese Culinary Vacation Program Draws Adventurous Cooks

Chengdu, China
In Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan Province, a unique two-week culinary vacation program for English speaking chefs has sprung up at one of the world’s most prestigious cooking schools: The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine.

While culinary school vacations are not a new concept—cooking schools from New Orleans to Normandy have opened their doors to foodie travelers—this program offers something different. Initiated by New York-based businesswoman and food enthusiast Diane Drey, the curriculum has been imbued with the passion and deep knowledge of Fuchsia Dunlop.

An alumnus of the institute, renowned Chinese food expert and cookbook author, Dunlop has designed a program centered on her passion: Sichuan cuisine, one of the most celebrated schools of Chinese cuisine.

The story of Dunlop’s love affair with Sichuan cooking is nothing short of inspiring. While she was working as an editor for the BBC, Dunlop grew so intrigued by Chinese culture that she enrolled in evening classes to learn Mandarin. Later, she went to live in Chengdu, where she spent a year at Sichuan University before enrolling as a full-time student at The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. This was only the beginning of the years of research that led her to author the award-winning ‘Land of Plenty’, the cookery book that introduced the culinary techniques and delicious dishes of Sichuan to much of the English-speaking world, and the acclaimed memoir ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China’.

As for the two-week program Dunlop has designed, it kicks off with a Chengdu Hot Pot Dinner, and concludes with a multi-course celebratory banquet at a Sichuan restaurant. Classes are taught in Mandarin (with simultaneous English translation provided by an onsite translator) by experienced Sichuan chefs, who also helm established restaurants in Chengdu. These are the same chefs who train China’s finest culinary students to follow in their footsteps. “It’s essentially the CIA of China,” Drey explains, referring to the highly competitive Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

 

The first two-week session drew participants from around the world, including the United States, Britain, South Africa and New Zealand, indicating the international appeal of Sichuan cooking. The success of Dunlop’s books exemplifies the worldwide intrigue with Sichuan cuisine’s stunning flavors and precise preparations. What’s more, she is evidence of the profound impact Sichuan cooking tends to have on those lucky enough to taste it firsthand in Chengdu.

During the two-week immersion, students learn by example, observing each morning as the chef prepares three authentic Sichuan dishes like steaming bowls of Dan Dan noodles, Ma Po Dou Fu (a hot & spicy tofu dish ), Guo Ba Rou Pian (pork with crispy rice in lychee sauce), and spicy Zhong dumplings. The morning program is more than a demonstration of recipes; the why, how, and timing of each step is explained, along with a detailed description of each ingredient. In the afternoon, students recreate the morning’s dishes in their own woks, learning how to control the pan’s heat as they coax Sichuan’s famous “numbing-and-hot” and “fish-fragrant” flavors from the freshest ingredients.

At the conclusion of two weeks, participants in the program will have prepared close to 30 different dishes and gained experience wielding a cleaver to cut raw ingredients into various shapes. The close contact and feedback from master Sichuan chefs helps students gain a deeper understanding of the complex flavors intrinsic to Sichuan cuisine, and how each dish fits into the scheme of Sichuan’s 23 flavors.

Despite its flavor complexities, the cornerstones of Sichuan cooking are rather simple: “Preparation and ingredients are everything, and many dishes actually cook in the wok in just five to ten minutes,” Drey noted. With that in mind, students are led on an excursion to a Chengdu food marketplace, where they source ingredients and select spices for dishes they’ll prepare back in the kitchen.
Adding cultural context to the program, and providing a respite from cooking and eating, students also travel to attractions located near Chengdu. Transportation to and from the city is provided for these day trips.

There is an opportunity to visit Chengdu’s Research Base for Giant Pandas where Giant Pandas and Red Pandas can be viewed in their native habitat. The base has over 80 Giant Pandas. Another trip is taken to the Sichuan Culinary Museum, where students will see ancient cooking tools, and gain further insight into the development of Sichuan cuisine. Lastly, students will visit the Giant Buddha in Leshan, a fine place for exploring and unwinding in the beautiful park and monastery.
The two-week program is given biannually in March and October.

Spice Queen Nirmala Narine

Nirmala Narine is a super talented wonder woman who not only runs her own successful spice business, but has authored books, runs a farm upstate and has traveled to over 125 countries around the world.  She’ll be speaking at the Asian Spice Cabinet Panel with editor of Edible Queens Leah McLaughlin and founder of Indian Culinary Center, Geetika Khanna.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?

I heard there would be rice, my favorite…but seriously, my great great grandparents are Indian and I was born in Guyana, South America – a whole other continent away. The foundation of my business and lifestyle is based on my Indian philosophy, our culture and tradition. To be a part of anything Asian, I am very proud. I continue to do a lot of charity work and mentoring Asians who wants to venture into the food business. It’s truly rewarding be a part of it all, and great to see that there are a lot of changes and that people are accepting it. It’s great to see organizations like this popping up.

You’ll be discussing Asian spices at the event. Which spices do you find are most often used in Asian cooking?

The term Asian is so broad just like the way we like to use our spices, we tend to blend several spices rather than use just one and add layers of “fresh spices and herbs”. The top five “base” dry spices are cumin, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves.
To be more specific, lets talk about the “common” curries which I like to categorize them by countries. Thailand and India are both famous for curry, but they’re totally different in taste and aroma. If I were to talk about Thai, I would talk about Thai basil and lemongrass adding its fresh and unique flavors to the spices found in a Thai curry dish. While an Indian curry runs the gamut but for example a “South Indian” curry imparts the citrus note of fresh curry leaves, while black mustard seeds brings out a hint of spiciness and is piquant.

On your website, you sell all sorts of spices and salts. Which would you recommend to home cooks new to Asian cuisine?

Our Curry blends and Sichuan peppercorn are quite interesting and very useful, not only do we recommend them for authentic Asian meals but to spice up your everyday American favorites, like spaghetti sauces, meatloaf, burgers with a tablespoon of any of our curry powders. Perhaps making your own rubs combining seasalt and Sichuan peppercorns perfect for grilled fish, meats and vegetables.

Are there any spices you know of that you think people should try first before moving onto more ‘mature’ spices?

Well believe it or not cinnamon is still strange to people when it comes to cooking, so when I teach beginner cooks, I start with cinnamon because its so versatile, making a sweet dish to a savory dish. As for my most adventurous cooks…well its not a spice but a tea which I cook with like a spice. Matcha green tea, it has holistic properties, not only can you savor delicious and quick teas but you can also use it to make desserts like ice cream, or cheesecake and or to color sushi rice for that wonderful verdant color.

You mentioned earlier that you make all your spice blends. How did you get started?

I come from a generations of Ayurvedic scholars, my grandfather was an Ayurvedic scholar.
We used spices and herbs to heal the body inside and out, its an over 5,000 year old holistic lifestyle born in India.

At the age of 5 he started to teach me this practice. I had the access of ingredients indigenous to the South American jungles and our ancient India. Each and every spice, bark, leaves, roots I had to pound and grind on our masala brick (the one on my first cookbook cover-its over 150 years old, my great, great grandmother brought it from India to Guyana). So as you can imagine all these ingredients I had to taste and their aroma registered in my head, so when a villager came to our home for a remedy I knew exactly what to do…of course with a watchful eye from my grandfather. Today, this education is priceless and have traveled to over 125 countries and so every flavor and fragrance I discover, continues to entice my senses to create a spice blend, as spices are the soul of every cuisine and food connects us spiritually and emotionally that’s why I started Nirmala’s Kitchen.

Your cookbook, In Nirmala’s Kitchen touched upon cuisines from all over the world. Which one is your favorite, and which recipes do you like to make?

Anything which calls for rice, my parents were rice farmers. But if I were to pick a recipe from my book, it would be to make Tibetan momos again. They’re so fun to make, I love holding dough in my hands very therapeutic in many ways.

Meet Maangchi

Thanks to Jin Li of MSG Food Blog, here’s the first installment of an interview series with our participating panelists who will be joining us this Monday at Asian Feastival. Social worker and student by day and food blogger by night, Jin has a serious passion for Asian food and has interviewed almost ALL our panelists, while still managing to make it to her classes on time.

 

First up is Maangchi, Korean food expert and YouTube superstar. You can catch her perilla leaf and cucumber kimchi demo at the Asian Feastival Asian Farmer’s Market at 2:30PM.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?

I’m so happy to be recognized by the Asian Feastival. We all have the same goal – that Asian food becomes more mainstream. I’m so happy about that.

What inspires you? Who or what motivated you to teach people how to make Korean food?

Three years ago, I started posting my YouTube videos. Before that, I really liked cooking, but my son was a computer science student and he asked me why I didn’t post some Korean cooking videos on YouTube. We figured that a lot of people might want to learn. My son inspired me. He got me into this. Also, my Canadian friends tasted my Korean cooking whenever they came over to my house, and they loved learning the recipes. They helped me by filming me. My first video was a spicy stir fried squid. Right after I posted it, so many people gave me feedback, and asked so many questions which I answered. I just kept making videos after that.

What do you find most enjoyable about cooking and teaching how to cook Korean food?

It’s very rewarding work. The relationship between me and my YouTube audience is very direct. They are like my friends. They are able to ask me questions, and I can give them advice. They approach me as my friends. Sometimes, their comments make me surprised by saying things like “You changed my life” or “You saved my life”. I’m just teaching Korean cooking, why would they think like this? It’s very touching. I’ve become very connected with email, Facebook, Twitter, and etc.

One especially touching story that I can tell you is about a woman in her 40′s. She is a Korean-American, but never had a chance to learn Korean cooking from her mom because her mother died of cancer. She ended up living with her father. She was born in the US, and she doesn’t speak Korean. Her father is an old man, but one day she found my website and she followed my recipes and she made a couple different Korean dishes. Her father came out of the room and told her how much the smells of her cooking reminded him of her mother, and it brought them both to tears. When you smell certain foods, it can easily remind you of someone or something. When I read this kind of email, I cry. It’s very rewarding work.

What’s your favorite Korean dish? Junk food? Any Korean food that you do not like?

When I was young, I used to eat ramen a lot. But these days I never eat ramen. I never make it for my children because it is so salty and has a lot of artificial ingredients. Sometimes my readers ask me to show them a ramen recipe, but I have to tell them that I’m not a big fan. Someday I’ll think about it.

So, what kinds of junk food do you enjoy now?

I usually like fried street foods. For example, fried vegetables. I like the taste, but as for my health, I should be careful eating these kinds of food. I do like the taste, even though I know it’s junk food. Fried sweet potatoes, crispy fried food is so delicious. I think the last time I had this kind of food was about a year ago, because I’m afraid for my health.

Do you have a favorite Korean dish that you like to make or eat?

I love so many foods. As you know, Korean food is so diverse. I love vegetables – for example, eggplant. Korean meals consist of rice, soup, and kimchi. These three things are very basic. Add a few more side dishes right before preparing the meal. The side dishes can depend on your mood. Yesterday I had some pork belly, but today I don’t feel like eating that, so I would choose some sort of vegetable side dish. My favorite food is tofu. I have posted some tofu side dishes on my website. I also like Soondubu jjigae (soft tofu stew). I posted this, and everybody loves it. It’s one of my most popular recipes. I also enjoy Korean style eggplant side dishes. Italian style usually adds cheese, but I prefer the Korean style more, using soy sauce, garlic, oil. My choice of side dish depends on my mood.

What kinds of flavors and ingredients do you like to use in your kitchen?

Besides Korean ingredients, I’m also interested in the cuisines of other cultures. As for Korean ingredients I have soy sauce, hot pepper paste, soybean paste, hot pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, roasted sesame seeds. These are the very basic Korean spices. Anybody who wants to learn Korean cooking need these items.

Do you have any future plans that you’d like to share?

I’m tempted to teach something that I learned from traveling in Costa Rica and Guatemala – maybe some authentic Central American dishes. I’d like to teach these dishes on my website, but so many requests for Korean dishes are waiting for me, so for now I’m sticking just to Korean dishes. Recently, I’ve taken some non-traditional Korean foods and added my own Korean touch to them. Most notable is my broccoli pickle recipe. Broccoli is not a common ingredient in Korean cuisine, but I made the broccoli pickle recipe and it was a big hit! People loved it. I’m now thinking about making Korean style collard greens. Sooner or later I’m going to post this recipe. Right now I’m developing the recipe, just adding a Korean touch.

Tell us more about the process of making your YouTube videos. How long does it take to make the videos?

I have been cooking without measurements. My way of measuring is just by using the tip of my finger. Never salty, and never bland. Sometimes I make mistakes – it depends on my condition. To make the video, it’s a different story. If making videos was an easy process, I could make 3 or 4 because I keep cooking. But it’s such a difficult process. When I first started 3 years ago, I didn’t have any good tools or equipment, just a small digital camera. That was my first video. Recently, we updated our camera. I also had to adapt my cooking style to use measurements like teaspoons and cups so that my viewers would know how much of each ingredient to add. I can’t just say “about this much”, so I have to give them exact measurements.

When filming, I don’t have any script. If I make a script and memorize it, it’s just too much and I would probably give up. Since I’m showing my face, I have to put on makeup and look good in front of my audience. It’s important to me. Finally, the cooking part comes. My friends come over to help film me. The filming usually is finished within 2 or 3 hours. After that, I put the video on the computer and begin to edit it. Editing takes a long time. I don’t know why. It takes longer than before, because I like to be as perfect as possible. Compared to my videos from three years ago, my current videos have better editing, lighting, and I look more natural in front of the camera. But the cooking has stayed the same because I cook all the time. My most recent video took 20 hours in total. It takes so long – I’m not a professional! I’m still learning. After editing, I add some music and I do color correction. Then I also have to take photos and post the recipe on my blog. I like to update YouTube and my blog at the same time. I also have a pod cast on Itunes. There are so many things to do! Can you imagine? This is my full time job right now. I cannot do anything else. Even if I meet some people for a few hours outside, a lot of things are waiting for me back at home. People are constantly asking me questions, and I try to answer their question individually. They also send me photos! I try to post all their photos on Flickr. So far I have received about 1000 photos. I also had a kimchi contest. It was very successful about 100 people came. I’m planning on doing another contest, and I have some sponsors to help me. I’m so happy about what I’m doing.

How do you create your recipes? Do you create them all on your own, or do you have help from family or friends?

Some recipes I learned from my grandmother, and some from my aunts. My grandmother was a great cook. I remember her cooking huge meals for many guests back in Korea. I learned to make soybean sprout soup from one of my aunts. She used MSG, but I don’t use it. Some friends also taught me how to make sweet and sour pork. I thought it was so crispy and asked her how she did it. I borrowed her recipe and figured out how she made it so crunchy – even with all the sauce. I learn some tricks like this from friends, and I try to teach everyone about it. Sometimes I go to a restaurant and I find the food is really delicious. I try to find out what is inside – I try to guess and to make it myself at home. I’ve mostly been successful. I try to guess what’s inside, and when I go home I begin to invent my own dishes.