Asian Heritage Month continues

Asian Heritage Month continues – it’s in April in the wonderful world of academia anyway, even if the rest of America celebrates it in May. I went to the Undergrad Alma Mater event. Quite something. Free food – as the law students said last night and the undergrads confirmed – is all good. Dessert – yummy again. And, here I am, thinking of trying to get on the boat of Brooklyn Restaurant Week tomorrow night. I’ve been very, very bad this week!

And, speaking of the Undergrad Alma Mater, that favorite hangout institution of Alma Mater has new ownership – and may soon be even more different than, say, how poet Allen Ginsberg would have remembered it.
Must do exercise this weekend. Somehow.

Substituting for Charlie Rose Thursday night: NBC’s Brian Williams interviews Newsweek’s John Meachem on religion and politics in America, plus Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund – wow. Cool stuff. Yes, me geek, but me like. Brian (if I may be on first name basis with him, as I have been with the Dan/Tom/Peter trio in the past) has his good moments.

Sad but true – Conan O’Brien did this very funny gag on “What if the Katie Couric to CBS News saga was made into a movie and so who would play everybody?” He has NBC’s Ann Curry played by… Steven Segal (and the picture he had was scary (for Segal, anyway); NBC’s Walter Scott played by Terry Bradshaw; NBC’s Matt Lauer played by Natalie Portman in her “V for Vendetta” bald look (poor Matt; losing the hair is a hard thing); CBS’ Bob Schieffer played by… Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars (bit harsh on Bob Schieffer there, Conan!); NBC’s Stone Phillips played by Star Trek’s Data (with a picture of Data’s pasty paleness matching Stone’s pasty paleness); NBC’s Brian Williams, Couric’s soon-to-be competitor, played by Sesame Street’s Guy Smiley (so funny – the picture Conan had of Guy Smiley demonstrated that Guy Smiley has a similar jaw line as Brian – tee hee…); and last but not least, Couric played by… Jack Nicholson’s Joker (something to do with their matching smiles – quite scary to think about!).
The coverage on the released study of the Gospel of Judas. Interesting.

Asian-Americans in the newspapers:

A South Asian-American chick lit book: Kaavya Viswanathan, who’s only 19 and a sophomore at Harvard, writes about her protagonist, Opal Mehta, tries (extremely hard) to become a Well-Rounded Person to get into Ivy League School of Her Dreams (Harvard, of course). Sounds like a book I’d read. 🙂

Actress Lucy Liu (Queens native) has been doing the tv talk show rounds to promote “Lucky Number Slevin.” Not necessarily my kind of movie. Then again, I felt squeemish when Lucy Liu got on “Ally McBeal”; as much as I’d like seeing Asian-Americans on tv, her character was… rather broad for a broad…

NY Times’ Mark Bittman profiles David Chang, chef:

TO listen to David Chang, you might think he is an utter failure. Mr. Chang, a 28-year-old Korean-American, talks about his difficulties before, during and after college; of watching friends get rich in the dot-com boom while he was bussing tables; and of walking around “with a chip on my shoulder” because “other guys could cook circles around me.” And finally, of becoming disenchanted with the behind-the-scenes world of fine dining.

He is a young man the size of a small football player who takes up even more room with his mixture of energy, passion, joy and anger.

But an outsider hearing his story can see steady progress, progress that has resulted in Momofuku Noodle Bar, his unusual restaurant on First Avenue in the East Village. It draws near-constant crowds and even the limo set, despite the fact that it is far from luxurious and takes no reservations, making longish waits routine.

Mr. Chang was born in northern Virginia, where his father worked in the restaurant industry, eventually opening a restaurant. Both his mother and grandmother were “great” cooks, he said. His grandfather, now 96, speaks Japanese and taught Mr. Chang to appreciate Japanese food as well as Korean.

His family hoped that Mr. Chang would go into law or finance, but he studied religion in college and graduated with no particular goal. In his early 20’s, he lived in London, taught English in Japan and had a variety of jobs in New York, from bussing tables to working in the finance industry. “That taught me I could never sit at a darned desk,” he said, using a slightly stronger adjective. Finally, he enrolled in culinary school, another venture about which he has little positive to say. [….]

As the tide began to turn, thanks to good decision making, luck, perseverance or most likely a combination of all three, Mr. Chang added complicated dishes that were based on his background but influenced by his training. The pickles, for example, an integral part of many Japanese and Korean meals, became increasingly varied: the restaurant now serves 8 or 10 different types at any given time. A bowl of pickles at Momofuku is a mosaic of bright colors and has a gorgeous range of flavors and textures.

“We use five or six different pickling methods, from a simple brine to a full-blown kimchi,” he said. The simple brine here features Asian pears. His kimchi method produces a super-flavorful result that has the distinct advantage of being delicious the instant it is done.

He also added far more substantial dishes, including slow-cooked ones that integrate Korean and French flavors and techniques, like the slow-cooked short ribs here, a traditional dish that Mr. Chang finishes with buttery potatoes and carrots.

“It’s a much easier style of braising than they do in French restaurants,” he said, “but the flavors are strong, deep and intense.”

He might as well be speaking of himself.

Interesting article, Mr. Bittman.

In the alternative, regarding the outlook for people of color: how diverse is it behind the scenes of high end cooking? “Black Chefs’ Struggle for the Top” is a fascinating article.

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