We are not a roasted turkey kind of family. We’ve tried it a few times—holy stress meter! I don’t think it’s something I’d do again, unless I had a whole brigade helping out. Plus, dairy-heavy/casseroled dishes do not go over so well with my relatives. So now, we just do whatever we like when it comes to holiday gatherings and that suits us just fine.
KIMCHI It’s kimchi-making season! I love making my own, as I get to control what goes in it—this batch I made less spicy for my parents/relatives. The next batch will return to a normal spice level though. I’ve been using a variation of Maangchi’s recipe for a few years now, and each time I tweak it just a bit, as I don’t think I’ve settled on a foolproof recipe yet.
BOSSAM Momofuku’s bossam dinner is not the traditional bossam meal, but momofuku’s version is my go-to recipe because it’s easy, cheap and a crowdpleaser. Salt/sugar rub on the pork butt, let it do its thing overnight. The next day, stick the pork butt in the oven for 5.5 hours aaannnd that’s pretty much it (kinda). Prep the fixins while it’s in the oven: ssamjang, ginger-scallion sauce, rice, bibb/leaf lettuces—I prepped the kimchi a week in advance. Give the pork a brown sugar/salt coat and crank your oven up. Done.
BAO I use a variation of this mantou recipe for the steamed baos, but I shape it into a gua bao/sandwich pocket for stuffing. Love this recipe and luckily for me, it’s in Cantonese (as the subs are not word-for-word!). For the bao fixins: julienned scallions, hoisin sauce, pickled cucumbers, cilantro.
CAKE & TRUFFLE I don’t enjoy baking as much as I enjoy cooking. I live for savoury foods. But I’ve had the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook for a couple months now, and wanted to give it a try. I dusted off the ol’ digital scale and made the Birthday Cake recipe and divided half of it for mini-cakes and the rest for cake truffles. They all, thankfully, turned out well. Phew.
p.s. my folks made the sushi (and, although it’s not pictured, a vat of phở, because that’s how we roll).
To its credit, the show focused this entire episode on New Orleans’ often-overlooked yet significant Vietnamese community and cuisine, led by host Emeril Lagasse and guest judge Eddie Huang who take the cast on a “crash course” tour, making stops at the fishing docks to talk to Vietnamese shrimpers, a bakery, a noodle restaurant, and finally the Asian market to shop for ingredients.
You know, there are lots of beautiful and delicious sweets in all the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia, but they’re usually left to the specialists, not so much served at any old dinner or lunch joint. As a result, perhaps especially here in North America, there is indeed a dubious “tradition of janky ratchet Asian desserts”, from fortune cookies to fried bananas. Which is why Eddie Huang’s quasi-compliment of a macaroon with Vietnamese coffee sauce is pretty funny.
Now, getting to my real point, if you saw this episode, maybe you were as creeped out and annoyed as I was by the white chef named Travis Masar, who dubbed himself “Captain Vietnam” because he dates “Asian men only”, has a Vietnamese boyfriend, and has been to Central Vietnam three whole times, making him the expert of Vietnamese cuisine. As such, he aggressively leads his whole team astray in the episode’s challenge, fixating on a tomato sauce he experienced in Vietnam, which ends up being cooked by an Italian chef who says he knows nothing about Vietnamese food but cooks up a marinara with ginger and fish sauce to pour over battered and twice-deep-fried shrimp cooked by an Australian chef. Unsurprisingly, it’s a disaster.
When Eddie and Emeril take a spin through the kitchen during prep, Travis informs Eddie that the team’s lemongrass got “lost in translation”, by which he simply means “lost” but I guess he had to throw in another reference to white guys in Asia. After Eddie appropriately ribs him over this vague blunder, Travis takes to his solo narration to weakly mutter without even looking directly at the camera: “Eddie’s Taiwanese-Chinese. He only knows a little bit of what he knows. Sorry, Eddie, you’re kind of a douchebag.”
Um, Travis, if Eddie Huang doesn’t know Vietnamese food because he’s Chinese, you’re a white guy. China and Vietnam are two Confucian-Buddhist chopstick-wielding nations which share a border and thousands of years of culinary cross-polination, which probably means a bit more than your dating fetish.
I’ve met guys like this who learn about all things Asian and even take lengthy pleasure-trips to Southeast Asia to help them meet Asian guys, and then later think they can “school” us on our own culture. It’s an arrogant and kind of colonialist attitude.
The whole thing smacks of quasi-colonialism, a quality no more evident than when he tries to school Eddie Huang.
When the Minneapolis Star Tribune is calling you out for your colonialist attitude, it’s gotta be pretty bad.
Unfortunately, Travis dodges the bullet at Judges’ Table and the Australian chef Janine gets sent packing. I definitely thought Captain Vietnam deserved the boot for his leading role in this culinary travesty. On twitter, Eddie Huang agrees. But then, Janine was the one who put battered shrimp in the deep-fryer twice.
At least Travis Masar’s fetishism and condescension has been lit up on the big stage for all the world to see. Asian restaurant-owners and potential employers, take note: this dude doesn’t respect your culture, he thinks he knows more about it than you.
Nagano Toyokazu is a photographer from Ishikawa, Japan. He is also a father to two adorable daughters, Miu and Kanna. Both daughters have been the focus of several creative portrait series which you can find on Flickr.