June 27, 2024

Exploring Chinese Gastronomy with Carolyn Phillips

Exploring Chinese Gastronomy with Carolyn Phillips

In this episode of Chefs Without Restaurants, Chris Spear sits down with Carolyn Phillips, a renowned expert in Chinese gastronomy and the author of acclaimed cookbooks such as All Under Heaven and the upcoming The Art of Chinese Baking. Carolyn's deep knowledge and passion for Chinese cuisine make this episode a must-listen for anyone interested in exploring the rich diversity of Chinese food and cooking. With accolades including being a James Beard Award finalist and a nominee for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, Carolyn’s expertise is unmatched.

What You'll Learn:

  • Carolyn's Journey: How Carolyn Phillips got into Chinese cuisine through her study of the language and her experiences in Taiwan.
  • Regional Cuisines: A detailed exploration of the various regional cuisines of China, their unique ingredients, and cooking techniques.
  • Dim Sum Insights: Understanding the art of dim sum and Carolyn's recommendations for must-try dim sum dishes.
  • Chinese Desserts and Baking: A sneak peek into Carolyn's upcoming book, The Art of Chinese Baking, and the often overlooked world of Chinese desserts.
  • Cooking Tips: Practical advice from Carolyn on how to elevate your Chinese cooking at home, including her recommendations for essential ingredients to buy at stores like H Mart.

Carolyn's Website
Carolyn's Instagram and Threads
Carolyn's Guide to Chinese Soy Sauce - Eater

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Today I'm speaking with Carolyn Phillips, a renowned expert in Chinese gastronomy and author of acclaimed cookbooks such as all under heaven, and the upcoming the art of Chinese baking.

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Carolyn has been celebrated for her knowledge and passion for Chinese cuisine. If you want to take a deep dive into Chinese food and cooking, this is the episode for you. This is Chris spear. And you're listening to Chefs Without Restaurants. The show where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting.

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I have 31 years of working in kitchens, but not restaurants.

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And I currently run a personal chef service throwing dinner parties in the Washington DC area. In today's conversation, Carolyn shares her journey into Chinese culinary culture. We'll dive into the rich diversity of Chinese regional cuisines, explore the art of dim sum, and discuss the often overlooked but fascinating world of Chinese desserts and baking. You'll hear Carolyn's insights on how learning the Chinese language enriched her understanding of its cuisine, and how regional ingredients and cooking techniques reflect China's vast cultural heritage. We also talk about how you can elevate your own Chinese cooking at home. She even gives some tips. You know, if you're strolling the aisles of H Mart and want to know what's a good Chinese vinegar or soy sauce, she gives some tips for that. And I'll provide resources in the show notes as well. So whether you're a professional chef, a passionate home cook, or just someone who loves good food, this episode is packed with valuable information and inspiration. And if you're interested in the process of writing a cookbook, a couple of episodes back, Carolyn spoke specifically about that. It was part of this conversation, but I wanted to release it for people who were specifically looking for advice on how to write a successful cookbook. So if that's you go back to episodes, and you'll find that part of our conversation. As always, you can find links to Carolyn's books and social media in the show notes. Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or threads at Chefs Without Restaurants. And if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, leave a review and share it with your friends.

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As always, thanks so much for listening, and have a great week. Hey, Carolyn, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

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My pleasure.

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Before we start

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this, I want I'm not gonna give your full bio, but I want to kind of set the stage here. So as I was doing some research for this, I saw that Epicurious wrote an article and it was titled Is this the best Chinese cookbook ever written? And that was written about one of your books. And Kevin pang of America's Test Kitchen has said I can count on one hand, the number of people I trust about Chinese gastronomy, Carolyn Phillips is one of them.

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And I think that's really important to, to kind of put out there because you know, a lot of people have cookbooks, a lot of people write about cuisines. But you have really done a lot of research here, you're clearly not an amateur. So I just wanted to set the stage a little before we started talking today. So that all being said, How did you get into Chinese cuisine, I

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got into Chinese cuisine through the language I studied at university and then went to Taiwan to actually learn it, you know, you don't learn a language in college. And what charmed me about the culture initially, because I couldn't make heads or tails of it was the food. And Taiwan was the center really of Chinese gastronomy for quite a well, because after Mainland China kind of shut down during the Cultural Revolution, they had lots of great chefs in Taiwan or elsewhere around the world to like Hong Kong and Japan and US, but mainly in Taiwan. And so I got to eat foods from all over China, which really is the size of Europe, okay? It's it's an enormous you can think of it as a country think of as a continent, right?

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Especially a culinary continent.

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And so it was able to eat, who's from all over China without leaving a city, which was absolutely incredible. Well, going back

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to the language, how hard is it? Because it seems so different than English, or many of the other European languages. So that alone, like learning how to read, write and speak, was that huge undertaking for you? Well,

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you know, 1.3 billion people can't be wrong, right?

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Yeah. Probably easier if you grow up surrounded by it, though.

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Most definitely. Yeah, it's, it's an it's a terribly difficult language for a Westerner to learn because it's very different from our language.

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There's nothing in common.

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There's no alphabet. I mean, like you're either in Japanese as well. And you have the basically, type of a, an alphabet going on. But in Chinese has nothing that's just characters. And so you have to rewire your brain and it's why so few Westerners are fluent in Chinese. And it takes a lot of insanity to go in there and just kind of do a deep dive into the culture and become part part of the culture for a long time before the brain kicks over and realizes this is a different way of thinking about things. And so I worked in Taiwan for five years at most of the cultural institutions there, like the History Museum and the Central Library, the Academia Sinica as a translator, and interpreter, and then when I came back to the States, I translated a couple of books, and then started working in the court system, the federal and state court system, California state court system as an interpreter. So it was a great way to rewire the brain so that the language became part of my head.

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I imagine. I think that's a huge accomplishment on its own. Oh, thank you. Looking at the food, a lot of people, you know, go places they fall in love with a cuisine. That doesn't mean they're going to write a 500 page book on the cuisine. That's because

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my husband who's a real foodie, he's Chinese. And he adores eating.

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And when we were in Taiwan, both of us were working full time, usually more than full time. We hit the restaurants for dinner, right. And so we were just eating foods from all over the country. Very reasonable prices.

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I wrote about this in my memoir at the Chinese table, just kind of the immersion into the food.

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And when we came back to the States, there was nothing available that was even close to what we were eating in Taiwan.

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Even the basic ingredients like salted Shanghainese, mustard grains, or fermented good fermented dough for even great soy sauce was not around. I mean, because Chinese soy sauce and Japanese soy sauce are two different things. It's like if you want to cook, you know, Italian food and you try to use a Riesling is going to taste off because it's a wrong the wrong ingredient, right? So I had to learn from the ground up how to make certain things, the basic ingredients, and I go into that in the back of all of your heaven. It's like filling up your pantry with all these different sauces or salted ingredients, or pickles or whatever, making it the way the Chinese have enjoyed them for 1000s of years. And as I started writing about it, I realized that as we went back to Taiwan for business stuff that the great restaurants were closing the great chefs who are retiring or passing on, and so we couldn't eat those foods anymore. It was like this. We were in Taiwan during this small precious window of culinary majesty. And so we come back here, and there's nothing that comes even close to it. We have Chinese American food, which is good. I mean, I adore Chinese American food is Cantonese food, which is fantastic, right? But it's not on the same level. And so that's why I wanted to write on the to heaven, it was to put down these recipes before they disappeared. And it's what's so strange is it's right now it's being translated into Chinese.

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It's going to be published in Shandong in China, probably later on this year or the beginning of next year. Because they're they too have experienced this like, huge culinary gap in their, their heritage, you know, and food is so important to us. I mean, I grew up on IANA like to the hot dish, you know, and macaroni and cheese and jello salad. And, okay, it's like, it's not the same probably same thing that my Scottish ancestors were making.

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Uh, we're not totally renowned for your great food. But you know, we do have our haggis on our shortbread. And you know, and so there's this like a, like a cut off between what we are now and what we used to have, you know, as far as great foods come that are talked about. And so nowadays, you have people coming out with rest with cookbooks that talk about things that are from, you know, Lagos in Nigeria, or say, Korean vegetarian food. And it's stuff that we have never heard of. You can't get them in restaurants.

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But you can find them in cookbooks, which is what's so wonderful about cookbooks. And

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you examined 35 different cuisines in China.

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That's a lot like if you had asked me how many cuisines there were in China, I wouldn't have even come close to guessing that. I guess, you know, like, if you looked at the United States and 50 states, we probably have a very different cuisine in each of the 50 states. So can you talk a little bit about the regions of China as it relates to the cuisines and how that's broken down and how you identify a, like a culinary region?

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Sure. China traditionally has categorized its culinary schools into four or eight or 10 Usually, but it's really happened that I tried to find the reasoning for this I wrote an article for for whites munchies about this. Why do we have this and I could not find any rhyme or reason people just accept it as like the fruit of envoy Province, which you know is, is excellent, but nobody ever eats on my food anymore.

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And this was because this was from 100 years ago. And this is just the way someone categorized it. And everybody said, oh, yeah, we need something to put every our cuisines into perspective. Let's just say there's four or eight or 12, or 10, or whatever. And we're done.

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But I said, that doesn't make any sense. You're, you're saying like, we're talking about the fruit of Jiangsu Province, or we're Guangdong Province, but you're ignoring places like Hebei, or C Jiangsu, or the far west and all the minority foods, a Taiwan haka. You have to put these on the plate too, because these are all very worthy cuisines. And once you realize that, China is as big as Europe, and is actually more diverse in terms of climate in terms of territory, and claims of history. I mean, my goodness, as you've got 5000 years of history, once you do that, and you start breaking it down, you can see that there are distinct regions, and I figured out they were probably around five, some people say six, but I think five is a good way to start off. And then within those, they have their own little families, they use similar ingredients. For example, say you go into Europe, you look at Europe, you'll have like Northern Italy and southern Italy are very different cuisines, right. So you would probably divide those into two different regions with Northern Italy, probably stretching into southern France, and maybe over into, say, Switzerland or whatever. It's the same kind of a principle. And so once I did that, I was able to then go a little bit deeper and then but the real kind of like Tada, moment that light bulb went off was when I realized that people ate the same thing that they speak. For example, if you speak Japanese at home with your mom, your mom's probably making Japanese food, right? If you speak Mexican, Spanish at home, your mom's probably making tortillas for dinner, right? And it's the same kind of principle in China. Because in like high nine, which is the, the most southernmost island in China, they were speaking a type of a haka, and I looked at the food and they were speaking the food, they were eating food, there was haka knees, which was like, wow, that was mind blowing. For me.

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It just, like opened up the door, and I realized, this is it. You eat what you speak. And it's the same the world over.

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And so that's, that's how human beings are wired.

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I feel that people talk a lot in generalities, especially when it comes to food, you know, people will say, I like Chinese food, or I don't like Chinese food. But that's such a weird blanket statement, you know, there's so much diversity, you know, what is it you like? What is it you don't like about that? You know, so it's really great to kind of shed the light on the cuisine, similarities, differences. Do you find that there's any within the country? I don't know, maybe disagreement about like, the origins of a dish, because we get into that, even here in the US, like, you know, who's the we like, what state lays claim to whatever dish? Do they kind of get into that a little bit?

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Like, no, this is definitely a Taiwanese dish, as opposed to this.

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Oh, my gosh, yeah, you can get into huge thrashes online on. Everybody wants to lay claim to it. I mean, the the problem with food is it's not usually memorialized. People tend to cook and not write things down.

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I mean, I have some of my grandma's recipe cards, but there's no real cookbooks, from her time that she used, you know, it was all just kind of, like, you know, by the seat of your pants, and you picked up a recipe card from Aunt Sarah for a chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn't memorialized. And so that's the same problem with the Chinese. I go back, and I've found some very old cookbooks that are absolutely fantastic.

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But they're, those are rare.

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It's just like in the West, you know, we very rarely put things down in orderly manner. You know, like how much a recipe should use of a certain ingredient. It was like my grandma taught me to cook, tell you a handful of this and the piece of butter the size of an egg, you know, and you whip it together till it looks right.

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Well, thanks, grandma. That didn't help very much. Right. So putting it down scientifically is the way that we can repeat how people did it. And so yeah, they get back to your question.

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Yeah, there's a lot of argument, but usually you can kind of like pull it through it and figure out what's going on. For example, Taiwan, Taiwan is very known for its well known for its beef noodle soup, right. And I when I went to Taiwan in the seven days, that's how old I am.

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The Uh, the Taiwanese that I knew was friends would never eat beef because water buffalo were like the family pet. I mean they tilled the land, you know, the rice paddies and they were beloved and you never would kill them for meat it would like be killing, you know, rover and Fido heard from for dinner, right? The same kind of concept.

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So to say that this was a time when these this was very strange to me. And then I realized we went to the different beef noodle soup stands, and they were tend to be run by some Chinese soldiers. And they had brought their recipes from their hometowns in Sichuan, to Taiwan.

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And it became gradually beloved by later generations, first by the people who are descended from mainlanders, and then later by the Taiwanese themselves, but it's not something that just came up, you know, coming out of the head of a god, you know, this is this is, this is something new, and it's has nothing to do with our other recipes. Yeah, but it's ours.

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No, it's everything has to have shared roots. And so you start picking apart things, you know, if I, I could call foods color, which is nice. But what you do is you go back into the ingredients, you say, Where does this come? Where does that come if they're using Chile oil?

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Well, that's definitely not Tony's so where did that come from? And then you can say, ah, is from Sichuan Province.

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And I imagine you wouldn't be able to do any of this. Had you not been so fluent in being able to read and speak Chinese? Correct? Like you couldn't go over someone like me and just figure this out?

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Well, you'd have to go into Wikipedia a lot and then have like, trust that they're doing it right. Yeah.

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No, you have to go back and find the original materials and start going down Chinese language, rabbit holes, you know, is it's like this whole thrash, for example, on chilly, crisp, you know, it's like people are getting very upset and twisted knots about it. And it's, like I keep saying is, it's a condiment. It's just, it's a condiment, and the people make it in all over, especially southern China in the hot areas.

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But it's also meeting in Central America. And I'm sure in the Middle East, too, they have hot oil. So it's like, it's a condiment, just relax, you know, you can make it yourself. And it's delicious. And let's just go have a bowl of noodles and just calm down a little bit.

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I feel like the conversation is finally starting to mellow out. I'm hoping by the time this podcast airs, the chili crisp conversation has died down a little bit. Kind of going back to the American thing. So you know, again, growing up, especially all I had was like this very Americanized Chinese, you know, the, the takeout culture, right? Like, we very rarely even ate and Chinese restaurant very much as takeout.

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So was that because availability of ingredients at the time here in the US? You know, I'm sure it was much harder to get authentic ingredients that people maybe wanted to cook with, you know, let's say in 1980, as opposed to today, but why did we kind of get this Americanized version of Chinese food here?

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Oh, well, Chinese Americans, you know, are descended from Chinese immigrants, mainly from the coastal areas of Guam, well known province that came over here to work on the railroads or to pan gold or whatever they, you know, reason they came here, and they had to survive. And so they had to offer foods that Americans would eat. And so if you look for example, at a program so like Boardwalk Empire, you know, they're going to a fancy Chop Suey restaurant in Atlantic City, and it was considered extremely exotic, and everything was very Chinesey.

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You know, it had nothing to do with what was eaten by Chinese people themselves. It was more to cater to Western tastes. And Ken hom wrote a wonderful foreword to my book, where he talked about working in his uncle's restaurant in Chinese American restaurant in Chicago, and they had two refrigerators, one had sweets are important and hit egg foo young and chop suey.

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And the other was for the Chinese people, which is the more good ingredient pork belly, you have old chickens, you know, you've got feet and dry scallops and things like that. So it was a different aesthetic. And everything was just so strange, I'm sure to non Chinese Americans, that it was just easier to get into things that were acceptable to us, you know, like sweet and sour pork. We Americans, we like sweet. We like crunch. He put almonds on it even better, right? It was things that were kind of like fashion for American tastes. And this happens all over the world.

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You go to Taiwan or to China and you eat American food. It's in there. notably fried chicken like a KFC, or hamburgers, but they're also given a little bit of a twist so it fits local tastes. And that's always the way you slide into the door and you begin to make a culinary tradition acceptable to the people who live there. And it's it's all an income when I was a kid, you know, Julia Child came on the airwaves and she was a wonderful introducing French food to us. But we couldn't eat french food. You couldn't good get good olive oil or French style flour or great cheeses or even good wines. I mean, goodness we had Gallo is jugs, you know. But we did have a crepe place down the corner finally opened up. And that was our introduction to French food.

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But it was filled with chicken all King, you know. But look at what happened in the intervening years, we now have stellar French restaurants across the United States, Chinese is still vastly under appreciated in underrepresented the Michelin stars, you don't see many for Chinese restaurants. Korean and Japanese tend to get Michelin stars but not Chinese. And so this is all a matter of educating them to understand what it is they're eating, to appreciate the foods and the textures. Because China Chinese food is really about texture.

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It's an almost a decadent type of cooking when you get into the real classic cuisine and serve Jiang and Jiangsu Province, where you things have things like the example jellyfish, or you have swallows, nests, or what whatever, there's all these different things that are not about flavor, but about the way they feel in the mouth, they call them mouthfeel. And then resume them with excellent ham or, or excellent chicken stock.

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It's this very, very elevated cuisine. And I'm hoping that in my lifetime, I'm going to be seeing Americans going to restaurants, and eating them with the same type of finesse if they go to an excellent sushi restaurant now, where they allow a sushi master to make them something that is extraordinary, even in in Tokyo. And we can do the same thing here in the US.

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That'd be fantastic.

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I'm hoping so and that's one of the reasons I was excited to have you on the podcast is to, you know, kind of put this out there to more people. I live in the Washington DC area. So I feel very fortunate between our Chinatown and having like Peter Chang in this area, and some really stellar restaurants, you know, I've had the opportunity to have some really great stuff. I've never tried jellyfish before. So is that something you would recommend trying if I've never had it?

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Oh, yeah, Americans like crunch. But it's a different kind of crunch that kind of resides in the era of jute drums. And it all has to do with the sauce, it'll probably have something like Julie and celery and maybe a vinaigrette of some sort, which is like with a Chinese vinegar and some good sesame oil, maybe a little bit of toasted sesame seeds. And it's very refreshing. And the Chinese are so util oriented, that they even differentiate between the cap and the tentacles of the the jellyfish, because they have different textures and the way they behave. When you cook with them.

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It's different too. So that's, I mean, they are just so granular when it comes to ingredients that they've had just 1000s of years on us. You know, it's it's hard to even think of, or even to comprehend to wrap your mind around. How ancient is food culture, it's probably one of the oldest in human culture, to the Chinese food culture. And they're only beginning to really comprehend and appreciate it themselves. Because I mean, poor China has been through put through the mill for the past couple 100 years. They're only now beginning to have the wherewithal to sit down and have a great meal without somebody bombing them or invade them or something, you know.

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Yeah, we're such babies here. You know, it's, we're, we're so young. One of the things that struck me is, I just got back from going to the UK last month with my family.

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And you know, you see buildings there that are 1000 years old, like here, if you see a church that's 100 years old, you're like, that's an old church, but you go over there, it's like, wow, this, this has been here for 1000 years in China. I mean, they, they have a lot of years on so they've had some practice with their cuisine. You also wrote the dim sum field guide, I love good dim sum. You know, my favorite things to go with a lot of people so I can try a lot of things but sometimes it's just my wife and myself. So if let's say two people, we're gonna go do dim sum. Do you have some favorite dishes that you would recommend that we're, you know, if we're not limited stomach space, we're not gonna be able to have a lot what are your go to things for a dim sum dinner?

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the Chinese believe that there are four dishes that really can tell you how good a restaurant is.

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Timpson restaurant. Yes. And that would be egg tarts. Uh, barbecued pork buns, the tracheal bowl shumai, which are the little cups of filled with, like a dumpling that are filled with pork and perhaps, you know, Chuck water chestnuts, things like that, and Pargo, which are the, they're very like a Christian wrappers and the home you will have a whole strip inside. And they will really tell you like the cargo itself will tell you how fresh the shrimp are, are they using fresh shrimp or, you know, stuff that they got on discount, you know, at a frozen from freezer somewhere. The Donta are the the egg tarts which are should be smooth and shiny and kind of like barely held together. And so by the put you put them in the mouth and just kind of like disappear. Touch the ball or the have like the raised dough that is actually very hard to duplicate because it's a combination of three different rising agents in it. So you have a little bit a little vein you have a baking powder plus you have baking ammonia, so it it kind of explodes and opens up into a flower. And so you should have like a wonderful barbecued meat the treasure which is mixed with oyster sauce and hoists and and all these different kinds of sauces, that it's not only sauce, it's mainly the meat but it's held together in this kind of like an unconscious package.

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It's just an experience because the dough melts away in your mouth. And then you get to work on the maintenance just fantastic. And then the show my which are little cups of, of egg dough that are filled with minced pork and other ingredients and then steamed and that should then tasted nothing but pure, juicy, high quality pork and what other whatever condiments they put in there. So you can see like you're they're judging you on the on your ingredients on your different kinds of cooking methods on different cultural references.

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And it's kind of like just like a cheat sheet on how good a place is. And by the way, when you go to a dim sum restaurant, you can go with three people are combinations of three, you can come out ahead because they usually will have the dishes served with three portions, you know, sometimes two, but usually three. So you'll end up buying, you know, ordering two of something when you really if you had three people, you could each have one bite, and that would be just enough.

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Oh, we found that many times with my wife and I going that it's like on this dish, I get two and you get one.

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And I get one if there's just two of us. Interestingly, my favorite thing or one of my favorite things has been the turnip cake, which isn't even turnip, it's radish. Is that correct? Rice? The Chinese right? Why would you even call it turnip cake. If it's a radish, it was just

00:27:46.740 --> 00:27:53.099
bad translations. I mean, translations are responsible for a lot of problems in the world.

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One of them is radish cake. If you call them a turnip, nobody wants to eat it. But the Chinese radish it's because it's something that we don't have in the West, or at least until recently. And it's the same family as a radish. It's not as hot. It's actually just quite juicy and luscious. And it's shredded and they're fantastic.

00:28:10.589 --> 00:28:39.450
I agree. Yeah. You can't keep it under great radish cake. And it's steamed into a pudding and then sliced and then you in the best possible worlds is either pan fried or deep fried. And so you have a calm again, the contrast of textures, the house exteriors crunchy and crisp, the inside is kind of like molten and less luscious. And then you've got these little bits of like charcoal or pork or dried shrimp or whatever it is, it's in there and then it kind of like spilled on your tongue.

00:28:40.680 --> 00:28:45.660
And if I want to try making that home, would I look for Chinese radish, it's not Daikon is

00:28:45.660 --> 00:28:49.140
it? Different things can be is this the same family? Oh, okay.

00:28:49.500 --> 00:28:59.130
We have an h Mart here. So every once in a while when I feel especially like I want to try something new and exciting. I'll go with my long list of things to pick up at each Martin. attempt a new dish.

00:28:57.329 --> 00:28:59.130

00:28:59.130 --> 00:29:01.529
great. Yeah.

00:28:59.130 --> 00:29:19.829
And if you can get the chant the Korean radish there, especially during cool months because it's shaped like a football and it's super sweet. I like to eat them just like apples. You just peel off the the skin make sure that there's no fibers underneath and then spice it up and eat it if they're sweet and just crunchy and just a real treat.

00:29:20.880 --> 00:29:23.069
I wish I had someone like you to go shopping with me when I go

00:29:23.069 --> 00:29:24.839
there. We love to go

00:29:26.069 --> 00:29:56.369
and then getting into the aisles. How do you even pick ingredient like, you know, I want a soy sauce. That's not a Kiko mon or I want a brand of rice wine and you go down you go to a place like HMR and there's cheese 30 types of soy sauce and none of them are in English. I don't even know if it's Chinese or Japanese or whatever. Like do you have any guidance on where to start besides just like pulling out your phone and trying to do a Google Image Search or maybe go in ahead of time with like a picture of a bottle that you found on the internet? That's yeah,

00:29:56.700 --> 00:30:07.500
if you have I wrote a guide to Chinese salsas for either if you go do a search with my name, and then eater and then soy sauce, it'll come up.

00:30:04.619 --> 00:30:15.059
And it'll tell you about the different kinds of soy sauces that are used, and how they're using which brands are best.

00:30:10.799 --> 00:30:29.220
Also in the back of under all under heaven, I have a glossary that talks about the different ingredients, like you said, how do you pick a rice wine, like a shelf, seeing rice wine or a cooking wine. And it also will tell you which brands are good.

00:30:25.859 --> 00:30:35.549
It has been in Chinese if you want to like, take a photo of it, and then show it to a clerk and say, Could you give me this, then I can point it out to you.

00:30:35.880 --> 00:30:49.289
But the soy sauces are a whole field. I mean, you have ones that you use for cooking time, Taiwan has absolutely the best soy sauce, I mean, bar none.

00:30:44.220 --> 00:31:27.210
They have. So you have artists and artisanal brands now that are coming out. There's small batch, really high end that can be used for finishing, and they're so good, they don't have preservatives in them. So you have to keep them in their frigerator. But you know, it's the kind of thing like, if you develop a taste for excellent Chinese soy sauce, you're going to start buying these bottles that nobody has ever heard of it, and it's going to elevate your food so much. It's kind of like putting on really good cultured butter or finishing the dish with great Parmesan cheese, you know, rather than shaking it out of a can. It's the difference is night and day. And it's the same thing with Chinese ingredients.

00:31:28.019 --> 00:31:44.940
Well, I need to seek out some of those and up my soy sauce game for sure. And, you know, scrolling your Instagram these days, I see you have a lot of sweet treats. And I know that you're working on a new book, The Art of Chinese baking. Can you talk about that a

00:31:44.940 --> 00:31:48.990
little bit?

00:31:44.940 --> 00:32:22.589
Sure. This is my new project. I started it during COVID shutdown I didn't I one thing I gotta warn everybody. If you're writing a book, don't try to polish it doing COVID Okay, because it's like a tree falling in the forest. You know, nobody's there to hear it. So my memoir is out there. So please go by it. But I didn't know what to write next. And we were shut up at home. So great. Oh, there's something like a little tiny book on Taiwan's cakes, like they have these wonderful chiffon cakes, and that are just roll cakes that are just absolutely luscious. So we have nothing like them at the West.

00:32:20.190 --> 00:32:49.710
And then they started writing it. It's kind of snowballed. And my editor at Norton, who was really lovely Melanie Turner rally, told her Oh, he said, Well, what about this? What about that? Can you talk about this, and then all of a sudden, I ended up with, you know, a 500 page manuscript and 200,000 words. And bless her heart. She hasn't told me to cut it down for you guys, but nobody has ever really explored the world of Chinese sweets and breads.

00:32:50.339 --> 00:33:45.839
They think I mean, you look at almost every traditional Chinese cookbook, and they'll say there's no such thing as Chinese dessert. Well, yeah, in a way you go to a banquet, you probably won't end the banquet with a piece of cake or pie or even a cookie, you know, you will have like a bowl of sweet soup because they think that you're probably full by then and you don't want something more to fill up your stomach, right? But in the West, you know, we're used to have you go to fresh laundry or per se or whatever, your that will give you like a flight of desserts. And you suddenly feel like you know, I know what a Goosen Toulouse feels like and I don't need something more stuff down my throat the Chinese are very sensible. However, the Chinese absolutely adore sweets and they eat them at a separate meal.

00:33:41.940 --> 00:35:26.280
It's it's for afternoon tea, or it's for breakfast or late at night. It's something separate when your stomach is half or almost empty, then you can attack a piece of cake. But even then they're extremely light and they're almost marshmallowy in texture so that the chiffon lowered sugar so the flavors pop. You don't have really heavy cut ganache or dark chocolate, but you might have like a real thing to milk chocolate, but it will be like bouncing off other flavors like fresh strawberry or mango or kiwi fruit or something. Or you'll have a combination of like red beans inside of the chiffon cake contrasting with matcha in the in the Chantilly cream or vice versa, you know, and so they're very subtle, and they're all about texture, and they're so light that I serve them to my really skinny Chinese girlfriends that don't touch anything fattening and they'll polish off a plate because they're so light. They're just like oh, and then they'll start scraping the plate and you know Where's where's the rest of that Chantilly cream cream because it's so good. And so speaks of home that I think that it really will revolutionize the way that we look at cake the they don't like butter cream In China, they like Chantilly cream, because it's light, and it's just whipped cream and sugar. And then again, it's usually contrasted with something that's slightly tart. Like I see a passionfruit, Chile or mango or something like that, which then lends it this whole other layer of lusciousness. So you can see why it's almost pornographic. I mean, yeah, you went into it.

00:35:23.789 --> 00:36:45.989
And then as I started going to the cakes, and then the row cakes, and then traditional cakes, the steamed cakes of China, which are absolutely fantastic. They're they sometimes they bloom like flowers, or they're made with like almost a sourdough starter, who should attend some of this incredible depth, you might have a little bit of soy sauce in there so that you have savoriness is contrasting with with with the sweetness, or the cookies that have a savory element like fried fried onions, or even fermented tofu, which is kind of like a feta cheese. It's just like, the more I scratched it's kind of like the, the more I found, you know, like, like almost an archeological dig, you start digging up this incredible city of Pompeii underneath all this, this nonsense, it's on top. And it's not about fortune cookies. It's something that's absolutely insanely good at the flatbreads, and that came from Central Asia and then morphed into Chinese recipes. Just like you can tell I'm absolutely enthralled by this subject. And the more I got into it, the more I loved it and my neighbors actually adore me because I keep feeding them and there were in movies all the time. But my friends let me now to you know, just like have a cookie and I have never pie. I would love to

00:36:45.989 --> 00:36:49.889
be your neighbor.

00:36:45.989 --> 00:36:55.380
That sounds amazing. Was this a relatively new thing for you is getting into the desserts, as opposed to like all the savory cooking?

00:36:55.679 --> 00:38:47.429
Oh, absolutely. You look at all at it heaven and the, you know, I go in each section I have like, it goes by from appetizers to desserts. And their suits are not really developed because I was really kind of like, you know, following what everybody had said, which is a really is not that much to talk about when it comes to Chinese sweets. But the more developed delved into it. At the back here, I have all these cookbooks that is, you know, hit collected over the years, with people that would say, yeah, there's this cookie that I really like. And let me tell you about it and starting to figure out what each area had for sweets because the Chinese have a collective sweet tooth that is absolutely phenomenal, great candies. Oh my god. When I went to Taiwan, sightline here, I was absolutely floored by two candies. One was like the center of a buttercup finger. Without the chocolate. It was like a spun candy of finely ground peanuts and honey and magic and you you would take a bite and it would just disappear on your tongue, tongue and they would just be this intensely peanutty flavor just flowing around your head and then this little bit of sugar, just kind of like Wasp was coming down your throat and you go holy cow, I can't live anywhere near this place. I'll be the size of the house within a week. The other one was this candy that was a chewy candy made of black deets and toasted walnuts was like a like a toffee kind of a texture. It was really chewy. And I've replicated that in a brown like a brownie style cookie for this cookbook, because I really wanted to emulate the flavors of those candies, but then a brownie for him and the artist so good.

00:38:47.820 --> 00:38:56.820
And that almost sounds like Middle Eastern to me. Like when you talk about like dates and stuff, I think like Middle Eastern desert. So that's interesting to kind of see it as Chinese.

00:38:57.510 --> 00:39:33.900
Chinese dates are not the same. We call them dates, but they're they're called YouTube. These is the chrome GPS, as you know, theater candies and like licorice candies, right? But they're, they're almost like apples when they're fresh. They're about the size of an olive and they have an olive shaped pin inside of them. But when they dry, they take on this really aromatic perfumey call qualities. And they come either in black or red and black ones are sometimes slightly smoked, which gives them a wonderful, different edge to them rather than just being floral. So

00:39:33.900 --> 00:39:36.840
if everything goes your way, when do you foresee this book coming out?

00:39:37.469 --> 00:39:56.429
Probably in fall 2025. I just gave it to my editor and she's despairing over the size of it. So when she gets it back to me then I have to edit it down. But we've started into the design phase of it which is fun, because I'll be illustrating it like I do all my books.

00:39:56.969 --> 00:40:18.329
That is a whole other skill set and something interests and talk a little bit about the illustration because I, it's not something you see every day with cookbook, you know, these days, it seems to be very large scale, probably expensive photoshoots with maybe well known cookbook, photographers. But the option to illustrate is, I think, pretty uncommon in this realm.

00:40:18.780 --> 00:40:51.119
Yeah. But it's like the yummy look at Julia Child's original books. The art of Japanese cooking all these traditional classic books, they usually don't have any photographs in them. My first book on heaven was published originally through McSweeney's, which is like an independent bookstore, publisher, I mean, and they asked me this, they said, looking looking at my massive manuscript, they said, Listen, you got a choice here.

00:40:47.460 --> 00:42:10.679
Do you want photographs? Or do you want more recipes, because we can't do both because photograph, if you have photos in a cookbook, what people don't realize is makes the book so much more expensive, because you have to use different paper. You can't, you can't have the colors seep through, it makes the book heavier too. And they said one or the other. And I said, Listen, why don't we have as many recipes as you will allow me, and I'll do the illustrations and, and I'd always love to draw on. So I did all the technical stuff, like how to wrap a one time or a spring roll, how to dice things or use a knife, things like that. And then edit, you know, like, occasional drawings into it as well. And that kind of like made it a little bit more like classic and flavor. And I I know, you know, people like to have photographs nowadays, but they don't realize it. Number one, it really increases the crisis price of the book, phenomenally. And especially when your first book, No, you're probably not going to get a you know, full color, fully illustrated Nigella Lawson level, Martha Stewart kind of a cookbook, you're going to have to, you know, be reasonable and work with a publisher to get the best that you possibly can. And just hope for the best.

00:42:11.699 --> 00:42:47.730
What do you think about? I don't really want I mean, maybe I'll say the glut of cookbooks these days. In fact, I don't know if you've seen the article that popped up on social media the past day or so basically saying like, Does every influencer need a cookbook these days, you know, because it seems like all these people, you know, I cook from home, I have now 100,000 Or maybe a million followers on Tiktok got a strike while the iron is hot, get a cookbook out there. And then we just get these very, quite often mediocre cookbooks where people aren't really doing anything new. It's you know, my mom's chicken parm recipe or whatever.

00:42:44.070 --> 00:42:55.019
As opposed to people who are spending years really researching and you know, putting out a quality cookbook that I think is going to last.

00:42:55.949 --> 00:42:57.960
Any thoughts on that? Oh,

00:42:57.989 --> 00:43:11.400
yeah. Well, I'm the same camp as you. I mean, I think that there's a massive quoted book, and I'm really wondering if a million followers on Tiktok translates into a million cookbook sales.

00:43:08.010 --> 00:44:27.000
You know, I, I really doubt it, what you do is you go look at the remainder stacks at any bookstore. And there's a lot of cookbooks that really aren't helpful. You know, if you really want to know about how to make a whole array of standard classes, get joy of cooking, you know, it's a wonderful book that I use to this day, you know, it's but if you want to really support inventive cooking, go look for the people who really love what they're doing and have spent years on writing about it and studying it and cooking it. And they're going to tell you something new. You don't need another recipe for carrot salad or blueberry muffins or chard, or chicken parm. There already are great recipes out there's a million great recipes for each of those dishes. All right. But if you want to look into how they make, how they enjoy food and things through Lanka, or Bangkok, there are some great cookbooks out there that will open up the world and probably blow your mind you'll have to get a whole nother pantry for what you're going to be buying.

00:44:23.309 --> 00:44:48.300
But it will change the way you eat and also open up your mind to the world. I think we don't realize that it's not just white people food you know in the world, it's we're just a small minority. The the way that people cook really shows how their people have lived and survived throughout the years.

00:44:44.760 --> 00:46:36.329
And then how as time went on, and they and life got better, how they learn to enjoy their life through food because we all celebrate with food. For example, you go to a I look for great Armenian food, the people Armenia went through hell and back again. But they managed to great create these Greek dishes that to this day, make me and we'll celebrate thinking about them, you know, a great ballclub or you get a great peel off or away with with lamb. And it'll tell you how these people who they interacted with over the centuries you look at the herbs and spices. And you know, it's just the same thing that I tried to do with all under heaven and with my new new Kobo gum, yarder, Chinese bacon, baking Chinese bacon, they are Chinese speaking, is to show these cultural threads that bring you in and show you World History almost in a microcosm where you can look at a flatbread that has cumin on it, you're not going to find cumin in the highly populated areas of China, but in the West, because it came from Central Asia. And it evokes like to me these visions of traveling on the Silk Road on a camel. And you can almost smell you know the a the incense and and the cumin and garlic in the air. And just learning how we are as a human race through food is just so wonderful and mind expanding.

00:46:30.210 --> 00:47:12.360
I think if we understand each other through food, because language is hard, and it takes a lifetime to really master language, what you currently can master the appreciation of a food through a few cookbooks, getting a great cookbooks on on Russia, for example, might open up your mind and say, Well, maybe the Russians aren't completely bad, they must be good Russian grandmas over there making Bureau ski you know, and and it's seeing them not as faceless, but rather as human.

00:47:07.019 --> 00:48:22.559
And the same thing to do with the people in the Middle East or Central America. It's seeing people as individuals, and as not as monolith. It's an example we go to a tamale plays here and down in San Jose, is run by people from San Salvador. And you get to talking with my my broken Spanish to them. And you start to see and communicate with them. They realize these really are just humans just like me, and they make this extraordinary food and why isn't everybody eating a tamale from San Salvador? It's so different from a Mexican tamale. And it it's so good. And why is it so good and you start talking to them, and then you realize how much we don't know. And we get so involved with what the Kardashians are doing or what what Trump is up to. When it's all extraneous. The world is so marvelous as it is. And food is just a really like a it's like a slip slide into, into the into human culture and like, get out enjoy.

00:48:23.460 --> 00:49:29.429
I would love to think that more people would be able to relate to humans all over the world through food, although I don't always think that's the case. I mean, clearly, we have people today who love eating Mexican food and are ready to deport everyone back to Mexico, even people who are actual legal citizens here, you know, it's sad. Growing up, I've said before we had a Vietnamese restaurant in town, and my dad wouldn't let us eat there. You know, like we were, we were still so close to like the Vietnamese conflict that it was like, and that was not an unusual sentiment, you know, I grew up in New England, I think my hometown was privately kind of like a racist tab, like to be honest, and, but to see this, like hard working family trying to, you know, bring something and showcase it and that I was literally not allowed to eat there as a kid. But, you know, thankfully, they were in business for a large number of years. And in my 20s, I was able to visit them. But you know, that's the kind of thing I grew up with. And I'd like to think that we're a little more evolved than that these days. But unfortunately, some days if he watched the news, which I try not to do too much of you think it's actually still kind of going on here. Well,

00:49:29.429 --> 00:52:04.889
humans are humans and we are provincial. I think it's hard to escape. It's what we are as humans is very provincial. We like close groups. You know, that's why we belong to clubs. So you're not allowed here. You're not allowed in this neighborhood. We put up fences. But I guess my hope is that humans can evolve and we've gotten to such a density of population where we have people from all over the world for the first time as our neighbors. I mean, I grew up in a very, very white area where you The most that you would get as far as non Wasp was maybe a couple Portuguese families and but nowadays, oh my goodness, like the Bay Area's like you've got people from everywhere in the world, and foods from all over the world. And I guess my point is that we're going to have to reach out and get to know our neighbors. And the best way to do that is through food. And sharing with them. It's not only just eating or what the folks from the Ukraine from Ukraine brought over, but also sharing your food with them and getting to know them on a personal level, and maybe going out for you know, a pizza together, you know, let's throw in another culture just to make things interesting. And I think it just breaks down barriers Is it food is just a great way. And it's not like everybody's going to do it. I mean, I know my own family is extended family is some of them are not going to be open to eating even doleful IT people, you know, they think it's weird, but it's a way to kind of like open up the door and sitting them down, and then, you know, offering a plate of doleful along with everything else. And if they don't want to eat it fine. But everybody's going, Oh, God, this is so good. And after a while, they're probably to sneak a little bite and go, This isn't half bad. You know, it's kind of like a mild cheese. It's like a farmer cheese, I can relate to it now. And so it's just like, to me, I just, I think there's so much joy in the world that just like, food is just a great way of expressing human joy and, and delight in the world and with the world, the bounty that we are given everywhere. You know, once you appreciate great fish, then you realize, well, we do have to save the oceans. We can't over fish. Wait, you're looking at photos of you know, like the Tokyo fish mark. And when they've got a, you know, a million Bluefin Tueller, lying there, and you're going, how much of a percentage of the fish population are we talking about here? And what goes, where did the rest of these fish go? You know, after the sushi, you know?

00:52:06.360 --> 00:52:42.389
Like, what do they do with the rest of that, I mean, they can't possibly just turn into cat food, right? But when we learn to appreciate food, and realize that we don't have to have massive amounts of food, to eat every day, but really good quality, then we're elevating the state of ingredients, we're still listed, elevating what we require, in our restaurants, we're gonna say, I want to go to a Chinese restaurant that serves great childhood food, or Taiwanese food or haka food, and I don't want it I don't want you to dumb it down. I wanted to eat what you're eating for dinner.

00:52:39.989 --> 00:53:04.739
Could you please do that? You know, once you get to know the owners saying, Tell me what's your favorite food? What do you eat for dinner? And could you make that for me that next time, and that's how we start to deal with Chinese restaurants is we go, we'd meet the owner and say, Hey, we really like this. Can you make it next time? And they'll think about it. Yeah, yeah, I probably could do that.

00:53:04.739 --> 00:53:30.059
Yeah, yeah. And then then they start making foods that we wanted, and that we appreciate it and then they would start offering it on menus. You know, because we're like hyping up in time people go there, you know, they have Chauhan yen, or whatever. And just getting people excited about food, and then saying it's okay to cook, which you love. You don't have to dumb it down for people not everybody is gonna want to eat sweet and sour work.

00:53:30.630 --> 00:54:09.090
I think we're in such a great time for food right now for that reason, you know, I don't want really get into like authenticity and traditional because that's a whole other thing. But I do think a lot of people now here in the US are wanting a more authentic or traditional experience when they go out to eat so we are looking to not just have that same old Americanized Chinese food that we had, you know, maybe growing up but let the restaurant tours, create or serve the foods that they love. And that's one of the things I like about like finding a local place and going in and becoming a repeat customers. You know, you get that little familiarity and comfort with them and hopefully get to try some new things.

00:54:09.570 --> 00:54:24.809
It's like Did you ever see the movie Harold and Maude? You know, yeah, Maude says to Harold try something new every day. And I think that really has to be like kind of like tattooed on your chest when you when you approach foods. You don't need to have mac and cheese and hotdogs every day.

00:54:24.900 --> 00:54:32.010
You need to have something new every day once at least one thing that's new try for that.

00:54:27.809 --> 00:54:40.409
And or if it's really hard than once a week, but at least open up these horizons and just try all this great food out there.

00:54:36.750 --> 00:54:41.460
My God is incredible. We're so lucky nowadays.

00:54:42.150 --> 00:55:24.659
Because I love my kids are I have 11 year old twins and while they can be particular they love, especially they love all kinds of Asian cuisines. So going to H Mart and especially the produce, you know, just the other day we saw dragon fruit but it was a yellow one and we had never had it and my daughter said you know can we get that Yeah, sure why not like I was so excited that she didn't go for the crazy exotic like cats from Japan that are crazy flavors. I mean, if I took her down that aisle, she probably would have to, but the fact that she was just as excited to, you know, try a new fruit. So I love taking them shopping. And it's just kind of, especially in the like, produce and meat or fermented aisle, like if there's something they want. I'm a big fan of, you know, getting it and going home and trying it. Oh,

00:55:24.659 --> 00:55:53.639
that's thrilling. That's, that's the kind of thing like, it's like Alice Waters where she, she was writing about her daughter, Fanny, you know, and teaching her at a very young age to appreciate, you know, stinky cheeses and snails and all this good stuff. It was like, wow, that is what you should be doing is not just, you know, feeding them carrot sticks, you know, and stringy cheese, but actually educating their palate and to being open to culture to different people. And I think that's fantastic. What you're doing. We

00:55:53.670 --> 00:56:06.539
could probably talk for hours since you had a, you know, a 500 page book and then other multiple books. But is there anything you want to leave our listeners with before we get out of here today, any final words or, or anything?

00:56:07.260 --> 00:56:09.809
Like I said before, so like, open your mind.

00:56:10.590 --> 00:56:22.949
Get good cookbooks, get some good classic cookbooks, read like Diana Kennedy's books on the cuisines of Mexico, or Elizabeth Ando talking about Japanese food or whatever.

00:56:23.130 --> 00:57:10.139
Elizabeth David, you know, there's some great great writers out there. And they're so passionate about what they do, is they don't all have to be TV stars. And that's not a knock on. I mean, like Nigella Lawson is She's a wonderful writer. And she's very passionate. And she's a lovely cookbook writer, and they all her recipes work. But if they don't all have to be on TV, the off. Some of them are just people that sit in front of a typewriter or a computer and just pound out words and tell you about the foods of the world. And open up your mind and then put away the cake mixes and make a real quick read, make a real cake from scratch and start to enjoy life through food. It all doesn't have to be frozen.

00:57:06.059 --> 00:57:19.650
And microwave is more than just fuel. It's its passion. Its involvement in the world. It's excitement. It's being curious.

00:57:15.599 --> 00:57:40.650
It's having a fascist fascination with the way other people have managed to survive and thrive. Just like food is just like, it's an odd avenue to go down. But if like if this is your passion, it is with mine really dive in headfirst mouth first, and just gobble up whatever comes your way. And you're just gonna be so fun. I'm

00:57:40.650 --> 00:58:03.750
a big fan of food and cooking. I assume that most of people listening to this podcast are big fans of food and cooking. Hopefully some of them will get your books and tackle Chinese cooking at home. I would love that. So if anyone's listening to this, let us know how it goes. Reach out to us on social media, share those pictures on Instagram and tag us because I would love to see more people doing Chinese cooking at home.

00:58:04.260 --> 00:58:13.079
Oh yeah. And I'm on Instagram, all the social media as well. So it's usually or Madame Hong, where the real madam home always

00:58:13.079 --> 00:58:24.659
linked in the show notes. So you'll be able to find her on social media. I also linked to books and articles that I think are interesting. So thank you. Make sure you all check that out in the show notes. Well, thanks again for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

00:58:24.869 --> 00:58:26.849
Oh, this was a joy. I really enjoyed this.

00:58:27.360 --> 00:58:31.500
And to all of our listeners. This has been Chris with Chefs Without Restaurants.

00:58:29.099 --> 00:59:00.179
Thanks so much and have a great week. You're still here. The podcast is over. If you are indeed still here. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. I'd love to direct you to one place and that's chefs without restaurants.org. From there, you'll be able to join our email newsletter. Get connected in our free Facebook group and join our personal chef catering and food truck database so I can help get you more job leads. And you'll also find a link to our sponsor page where you'll find products and services I love. You pay nothing additional to use these links.

00:59:00.179 --> 00:59:16.650
But I may get a small commission which helps keep the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast and organization running. You might even get a discount for using some of these links. As always, you can reach out to me on Instagram at Chefs Without Restaurants or send me an email at chefs without restaurants@gmail.com Thanks so much