What is this quintessence of dust?

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed about my small work by the good people in the ATO of the US Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau. The resultant fine edit is a string of strange non sequitur statements (by yours truly), all ending in the form of a question? Whatdayagonnado! It was very nice being presented and of course the school, students and my team look lovely. 

In the hours of actual footage the idea I was trying to get through was:

I am the result of a deep culinary tradition of the melting pot of America. Brought to love diverse, ethnic home-style cuisine by my heritage, and especially by the wonderful home cooking of my Mother and Grandmothers. That the America I know, love, and am proud of is a place that celebrates diversity, pluralism, and damned good food. Some of the best food in the world comes from my place of birth, and certainly The USA produces many of the worlds finest ingredients.

While I may have become a gypsy – traveling the world, considering it my nation, and its people my brethren – I am still guided by the wondrous bounty, eclectic variety, and warm conviviality that, to me, is American cuisine. In my work here at HKA, and in all past stations, I have tried to share my love for all that I received by accident of birth. To me that is quintessentially what being American is all about. 

The Value of Vocation

For three weeks this summer Henry and I stayed at our first, and probably last airbnb. We have no true horror stories to share, we were not robbed, or cheated, nor were we in any danger. At worst we experienced a few minor inconveniences or injustices. However, what airbnb gave us was a reminder that Hotelier, like Chef, or Writer (to name just a few), is a serious vocation, not something just anyone can play at (my written word is evidence enough). Continue reading

How The Mighty May Have Fallen

 

As many in Hong Kong know, Dan Ryan’s in Pacific Place is closing down after 27 years. I hasten to add the group is still alive and kicking, even though the flagship is about to close. Dan’s was not only one of the first tenants of Pacific Place, a once singular hub of Hong Kong shopping elites, but was also one of the first authentic, successful, freestanding, restaurants here. Dan’s was founded in part because the group of bankers who started it were sick of what they called hotel food. At that time about the only way to get imported western food was to eat at hotels. Hotels often tend to fuse things and in so doing make passable but often inauthentic or caricatured dining experiences. Continue reading

Morning for Markets, Evening at Home


This morning, my last with the group, we started sans breakfast but with a trip to whole foods. Whole foods is a mega corporation that has built its foundation solidly on the idea that a sucker is born every minute…no wait that was Barnum. Whole foods built their success on the progress paradox, and the naturalistic fallacy. We don’t know how good we have it so we suspect everything is tainted. We also forget that just a few generations earlier nature gleefully slaughtered our species in droves. And like Abraham, we turn to the god that would kill and torture us, lay prostrate, and begin to worship…but I digress. Whole foods was a nice enough supermarket, though small to my mind. And we did eat at its food court. The food was pretty good, but not fantastic. I have had better food in Fry’s who also has a much larger selection. Continue reading

CIA Tour and Chef Bill Brewa


Our first day at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone was a long tour of the facilities, complete with ample time in the campus store , and lunch in the institute restaurant, before an afternoon of “carnal” knowledge sharing from Chef Bill Brewa. Continue reading

China Chef Team Tour

Last week, I had a surprise call from John Lam of the US Meat Export Federation. USMEF and I have been in frequent collaboration this year, and they wanted to invite me to join them and a diverse China culinary group for a whirlwind educational trip of Napa Valley. So after some deft schedule maneuvers, I’m back to The States on a sudden surprise trip. Continue reading

US Cuisine

Turducken!

Turducken!

The typical, packaged, chain restaurant, food that is taken as the prime example of our heritage outside (and more recently inside) of the US, is not the food of the United States that I grew up with. Most of it, through factory methodology, is a mere shadow of a small segment of the cuisine.

I’m second generation born in the US. The cuisine I grew up with is a hearty blend of immigrant culture. All traditional foods, cooked in very homey ways, by careful and caring home makers. While Thursday was always spaghetti with meat sauce in my home, and Friday was fish, we were as likely to eat Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Polish, German, French or British inspired dishes on any other given night. And, we only ever ate burgers, once or twice each summer, from an outdoor, charcoal, barbecue.

Being from Chicago, meat was a staple of our meals, but it was more often than not secondary cut, b grade product, or a force meat. Kielbasa, or Italian sausage, meatloaf, beef stew, pot roast, chili con carne, chop suey, or a variety of casseroles, were common. Actual steak was a rarity that was cherished. Indeed steak was such a special delight that we only each had a small portion, and supplemented our dinner by sopping the briny beef drippings with handfuls of bread. Aside from beef we ate a lot of pork, roasts, chops, ribs. Chicken also figured prominently on our menu. Fish was weekly but seafood was much more unlikely than steak.

For starch we ate a good amount of pasta and potato, sometimes rice, and always bread. Meals were always square, with a hearty portion of vegetables cooked or as salad, to accompany any sitting. Dessert was fairly uncommon for us and when we had it it was almost always a fruit based dessert. Usually in the form of a fruit pie or a gelatin dish. Chocolate cakes were the exclusive provenance of birthdays.

The meals were always served family style. I don’t believe I had my first individual portion of food, until my grandparents took me to a restaurant in my early teens. I know I never ate a McDonald’s until my elder sister worked there when she was a teen. Back then she once brought home left overs at the end of the day. The next day for lunch we ate left over, reheated McDonald burgers. The next time I tried them I was a teen, and we were moving house, so my dad stopped at McDonalds on the way from old to new house. It was the first time I had a Big Mac, and probably the last time for many years.

Dinner was always a family affair. My mother insisted we spend a dinner hour around the table together eating and socializing. On holidays the routine was the same though the size of the table and seats were augmented by visiting relatives. I have always loved those raucous times, and have worked hard to try and create that blue-collar family feeling in my restaurants.

I very much enjoy doing these sorts of food programs with the USMEF. We get a chance to educate cooks and customers to what traditional US cuisine is. Wholesome, simple, melting pot immigrant food, with a deep history as wonderful, convivial, sustenance.

As I developed as a chef the countries culinary zeitgeist was embracing regional cuisines, so we became exposed to Cajun, Creole, Southern, New England, Californian, Tex-Mex, Pacific Northwest and Hawaiian foods. On top of that elder variety, the ongoing immigration of the world to our shores has brought so many new flavors and cooking methods to us. The variety of dishes is so large, that it would be comparable to trying to combine all of Western Europe into a single country. It is really that diverse.