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

  • 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 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.