Asian Feastival Assistant Producer, Writer and Photographer

Guilty pleasures?
When I stay at my aunts in Hong Kong, we eat bowls of ramen accompanied by fried dace with salted black beans late at night. Then to absolve our sins, we flush down all the grease, MSG and sodium with cups of expensive Chinese tea. I also kind of have a thing for those candy strawberry sour belts they have in the bins at Sugar Factory. As a kid, I was never allowed to buy them so I’d always sneak a belt or two from my friends. In retrospect, it reminds me of going to the mall on the weekends, which is the last place I want to be on the weekends nowadays, but those bring back old memories of growing up in suburbia.

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve eaten?
I’m willing to try almost anything, bring on the funky tastes and textures. My first taste of durian was in Singapore, which we bought from a stand in the middle of an empty parking lot. I know, kind of sketchy, but people from all over that flocked to this random parking lot for some of the best durian. I still remember it was a warm, humid summer night and we brought back the durian, sat on the porch, and I plugged my nose, scooped up the custardy pod and just went for it. It may smell like dirty feet and rotting garlic, but it was surprisingly delicious and the flavor was unlike anything I’ve ever had. A while back, I finally conjured up the courage to try balut, duck fetus, at King Phojanakong’s Umi Nom. Even further back, on a tour to Vietnam with a bunch of chefs and student chefs five years ago, Michael Bao tricked us all into eating roasted rats, which we originally thought were just abnormally small “baby pigs”. I have to admit, it did taste sort of like roast pork.

What would you like to try but haven’t yet?
I’m interested to try any and all cuisines, as long as I’m not ethically against it or if it risks my health.  I’m not sure I’d eat whale for ethical reasons, but my philosophy is that everything deserves a chance!  The Tajik cuisine at Cheburechnaya looks interesting, and comes with recommendations from Dave Cook of Eating in Translation. I’d love to have them participate at Asian Feastival and get more people exposed to more cuisines.

When did you first realize you were a foodie?
Food has just been such an integral part of my life. I derive so much pleasure from enjoying good food with good company, the connection it has with people and the warm memories it triggers. For a more long winded answer, you can read this blog post.

What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
I have to agree with Emily, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. There are so many dishes that are relegated to breakfast that just don’t taste the same for lunch or dinner. I love eggs and am in awe with the million ways they can be cooked. I like runny yolks and a good poached egg always hits the spot. Public makes awesome Turkish eggs, which consist of two poached eggs swimming in a bowl of Greek yogurt, topped with kirmizi biber (a Turkish pepper) butter. The smokey peppers and the tart yogurt are the perfect compliment to the poached eggs, without overpowering it. It’s all about the eggs in this dish. When I have a good egg dish for breakfast, I’m happy for the rest of the day.

Do you ever cook? What’s the best dish you make?
I cook pretty often, but I’m definitely more of a eater than a chef. For my birthday, my mom bought me a copy of Andrea Nguygen’s Asian Dumplings. After helping out at a dumpling demo, I scored 10 extra packs of dumpling wrappers to bring home and decided to test out her steamed vegetable dumpling recipe for a potluck dinner. My sister and I made 80 dumplings and brought a tray of them to the party. By the end of the night, the tray was completely empty; I’d say this was a pretty successful recipe. It takes a bit of time to prepare the ingredients, but if you make it in one big batch and freeze them, they’re perfect for those days you don’t have time to cook dinner. Here’s the recipe, and if you want more dumpling tips check out Andrea’s website devoted to everything you need to know about Asian dumplings.

Katsuno: A Japanese Gem in Forest Hills

Today’s restaurant review comes from a Japanese restaurant, Katsuno, a cute little gem located in Forest Hills. With a minimal Kyoto-style storefront and little to no signage, it’s easy to pass by without noticing. But don’t let its modest looks deceive you, inside you’ll find some of the best Japanese home cooking outside of Japan from the husband and wife duo, Katsuyuki and Yuka Seo, who have owned and operated this quaint Japanese eatery since November 2008.

With twelve years of strict training at the elegant restaurant Neboke in Tokyo, and twenty years of working in New York City, ten of which he owned his own place in Midtown, Katsuyuki and Yuka, decided to bring their home cooking to Queens, an area of New York that is lacking in authentic Japanese cuisine.

Katsuyuki starts preparing for their dinners at nine o’clock every morning and works until two. Their menu is simple, with not much description to the dishes, but what comes out is always a delicious surprise to the customers. The restaurant received accolades for the cold onsen poached egg in Time Out Magazine’s Eat Out Awards. The eggs are slowly cooked at 140 degrees for forty minutes, and what comes out is a silken egg custard suspended in his special dashi broth.

Specials change every three weeks, but what remains a constant favorite is the squid and celery salad with salmon roe $15, and the entrée of grilled miso marinated beef $24.

How did you and your husband get into the restaurant business?
My husband, Katsuyuki, trained at Neboke in Tokyo in the strict old style of kitchen cooking for about twelve years. He has been a chef his entire life. He has been working as a chef in New York for about twenty years. We owned our own restaurant in Midtown for about ten years before we opened this one in Forest Hills.

How long has Katsuno been opened?
Katsuno opening in November 2008. So it’s been open for about a year and eight months now.

What kind of Japanese food do you serve at Katsuno?
In Japan, every restaurant specializes in one thing. For example, if you want to have sushi, you go to a restaurant that only serves sushi. If you want udon, you would go to a different restaurant. However, being in America, we have to do everything to please the customer. We have “izakaya”, which are small plates to share; we offer sushi, and udon and soba noodles as well. In Japan it is a custom to have the izakaya first with drinks. After drinking and sharing plates, you finally finish with udon or soba noodles.

What are the most popular dishes?
The grilled miso marinated beef is very popular. The squid and celery salad with salmon roe is also popular. Katsuyuki makes his own special dressing for the salads, which is always a surprise to customers. They had no idea, and we like that our customers are surprised by the special things that we do with preparing our dishes. Our seasonal specials change every three weeks.

How many people do you have working in the kitchen?
We have two to three people in the kitchen, but my husband is still the chef.

Meet Emily Lew, Asian Feastival Designer and Correspondent

What’s cooking? Who’s coming? What am I going to eat? — All questions that we will hopefully answer in time for the big September 6th event.

To get ourselves better acquainted, we’ll begin with an introduction of who’s behind the keyboard over here at Asian Feastival HQ, starting with our very own graphic design guru and correspondent, Emily Lew! She’ll be going behind the scenes, poking into kitchens and interviewing the restaurants that will be serving their signature dishes for the tasting portion of Asian Feastival. Here we go…

Name: Emily Lew
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Designer and Writer

Guilty Pleasures?
My kryptonite is ice cream/gelato. I am always up for a creamy scoop of ice cream on a sugar cone. It makes me so happy, like no other food. In Paris, I remember having a croissant everyday! Mmm…the layers upon layers of fluffy…flakey…buttery dough baked to perfection. I felt like such a glutton, I wanted to have them all day!  Raw dark chocolate tastes soo good too!

Describe your perfect meal:
Hmm, my perfect meal…that really depends on the day!
If I am cooking, it would have to be ong choy sautéed with garlic and fermented bean curd, and a fresh caught fish that I steam with ginger, scallions, garlic and soy sauce.  I do love sushi…so an omakase dinner with kinpira as a starter sounds about right.
But there are other things I also like, so I will break it down by cuisine:
Italian: Funghi pizza and fresh homemade butternut squash ravioli in truffle and sage butter.
Middle Eastern: a lentil soup to start, with a fresh salad, tabbouleh, hummus, and a freshly baked pita.
Mexican: Guacamole and chips, calamari salad and spicy enchiladas verdes!

What food will you not eat?
I’m always willing to try anything once, but I try to stay away from anything that is really fatty. I know, my biggest weaknesses are ice cream and gelato, which are both highly fattening, but in terms of savory food, I don’t like to taste the fat — for instance, in pork belly or sweetbreads. I’ve tried spicy insects in Mexico City, but I don’t think I would eat that again…especially since there are so many great options other than eating a crunchy little bug.

Who is your favorite food person?
Lidia Bastianich because she really knows how to teach – step by step and her dishes look authentic and delicious. I love Italian food, and I like how she does her show, she is not over zealous, too quick or trying too hard. She also is not the best looking person on TV, which really appeals to me; it shows that she is really all about the food. She is an old school Italian woman who knows how to do it right.

I also love Martha Stewart. We all know that everything is just a façade with her. Outwardly she seems perfect, but we all know the real story. She is the successful American businesswoman that women aspire to be. Even when she shows her recipes, everything is done so carefully and so well. She knows what she is doing and she is perfect in this deceptively, creepy way.

When did you first realize that you were a foodie?
Being Chinese, I feel like it is a given…you have to be into food. I come from a long line of serious chefs and eaters, which I am sure most Chinese people can relate to. I grew up having sit down dinners with my whole family. We would wait for everyone to come home and have a feast! When I was younger my metabolism was so fast, I could eat anything I wanted and I did eat everything! I ate more than anyone in my family, but I was still the skinniest one in my family.

What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
Definitely breakfast! I can eat breakfast items all day. I love pancakes, eggs, waffles, home fries, French toast, fresh fruit, granola, yogurt, bagels, smoked salmon. I think Dizzy’s in Park Slope is fantastic. Consistently delicious breakfast, and on the weekends you get coffee or tea and your choice of juice with freshly baked mini muffins and scones with your breakie! You can’t beat it!

Do you cook? What’s the best dish that you make?
Yes, I love cooking and baking. But I enjoy the latter more. My favorite dish to make is Chilean Sea Bass sautéed with fresh ginger, scallions, and garlic in a delicious black bean sauce. In terms of sweets, I love baking everything, from cookies, cakes to muffins and cupcakes. I’ve even made some really good gluten free baked goods.

What are some staple Asian ingredients in your kitchen?
GARLIC!!! Oyster sauce, dried black beans, fresh ginger, scallions, dried Shiitake mushrooms, fermented bean curd sauce, dried baby shrimp.

Why and how did you get involved with Asian Feastival?
I met Wendy Chan, the producer behind Asian Feastival, through a mutual friend — my landlord! I’m currently writing a cookbook and compiling some of my dad’s traditional Chinese recipes, so I decided it’d be a great opportunity to get involved and immerse myself in the community of Asian foodies.

Emily Lew’s Chilean Sea Bass Sauteed in Black Bean Sauce
Serves 2 people

Chilean sea bass, 1 pound
1 sprig of scallion, sliced
1” section of ginger, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Dried black beans
Oyster sauce
Canola oil
Salt

  • First you need to prepare all of your ingredients by slicing the scallions and ginger into 1/8 inch thick slices.
  • Mince the garlic, and wash the black beans in lukewarm water so that the skin of the beans come off. Then mash the black beans with the back of a spoon to get the flavor to come out of the beans.
  • Fire up your wok and add some oil to your pan. Then add the black beans and garlic. Let the garlic sizzle up until it starts to brown a little.
  • Once the garlic starts to get a little color add the Chilean sea bass. Add a little salt, and then put a cover over it. Check on it, and flip it over about 5 minutes into it being cooked.
  • Add a little salt to this side of the fish as well. Add some oyster sauce and half of your scallions and ginger, and cover it again. Let it cook in the wok for about 7 more minutes (if it is not frozen, if it is you will need to cook it longer).
  • Once it is ready, transfer it on your plate with the black beans, garlic, ginger and scallions over the whole fish. Top it off with the rest of the scallions and ginger you sliced up.

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.