Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hi-Yah! 4 Rising Asian-American Chefs to Keep Your Eye On

Asian-American Chef
Right now, Asian-American visibility in the creative fields is at a revolutionary high. Asian-American writers, dancers, actors, visual artists, and musicians are exploding into the mainstream like they’ve never done before. Granted, this trajectory in career choice is the result of a natural progression. As with most immigrant groups, ethnic Asians came to the States and settled for blue collar jobs. Language barriers, citizenship, and non-existent credit (just to name a few) were obstacles difficult to surmount. Thus, these first generation immigrants bled their fingers to the bone to secure stable futures for their children. They dreamed of their sons and daughters entering respectable fields such as medicine, law, and finance. And, don’t quote me on this, but I’d wager to say that quite a few Asian-Americans entered said fields to appease their hardworking parents. (Asian-American inherited guilt/suffering psychosis to follow in another post). But from this generation of born and bred Americans, there were trailblazers who forged their own paths.

Are there any accomplished Asian-American chefs?

While there are Asian-American pioneers in every field one can imagine, today I’d like to focus on chefs. Why, you ask? Well, I love to eat! Really, I can plan an entire day around what I will consume. Blame my old school Korean grams for nearly force feeding me and my brother every meal, but I loves to grub. So, please indulge me. Here’s my list of 4 rising Asian-American chefs that are tearing up the culinary scene.


4) Dale Talde, Talde
You might recognize Dale Talde from his run on the ever popular series Top Chef. Maybe you were rooting for him to win, and maybe you weren’t. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t win. If you didn’t know, it’s time to fix the DVR). Either way, I have news for you. Watching a dish on TV is just a tiny bit different from actually eating one in real life. You know, the whole using your taste buds thing does come in to effect. In real life, Talde’s food is thoughtful and superbly executed. At his flagship restaurant, aptly named Talde, in Park Slope, NY, he serves a mix of Southeast Asian inspired cuisine. He utilizes the bold flavors of the region, such as lemon grass and chili, without hesitation. Each dish is elevated without the air of pretension. In short, Talde is serving good food done right. What more can you ask for?
My recommended dishes:

  • Pretzel Dumpling; 
  • Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai; and 
  • Whole Steamed Fish in banana leaf.

3) Hooni Kim, Danji
There’s an argument to be made that Korean cuisine won’t ever fall into the realm of fine dining. The hearty stews and fermented dishes that characterize the cuisine were developed, historically, because the land was ravaged and war-torn. In the old country, preservation of food equaled staying alive. Korean food is often described as rustic, but in conversation it rarely enters the echelon of hoity fare. But, let me introduce you to the man who’s changing that dialogue. At his restaurant Danji, Hooni Kim is serving elevated versions of Korean homestyle. Don’t expect your average seaweed soup or beef bbq here. Kim takes Korean favorites and reconstructs them with delicacy and precision. If Korean food is striving to reach the ranks of French cuisine, Kim is the front runner propelling the race.
My recommended dishes:

  • Grilled Pork Belly and aged Kimchee with warm organic tofu; 
  • Bulgogi Beef sliders; and 
  • Danji Braised Short Ribs.

2) Anita Lo, Annisa
This is not Anita Lo’s first time at the rodeo. Obviously, by “this” I mean to say cooking. And by “rodeo” I mean to say kicking ass! Way back in 2001, Lo was named one of the 10 “Best New Chefs” in America. Since then, Lo has cultivated and maintained a reputation as one of the best in the country. At Annisa, Lo fuses traditionally Asian ingredients with her French training sensibilities. Fusion doesn’t begin to describe what Lo is bringing to the table at Annisa. Her dishes are an effortless pairing of the unexpected. Creativity is the bull in Lo’s corner.
My recommended dishes:

  • Miso Marinated Sable; 
  • Frog Legs and Lobster with Grits; and 
  • Grilled Wagyu with Escargots.

1)  David Chang, The Momofuku Empire
No respectable conversation about contemporary Asian-American chefs can be had without mention of the inimitable David Chang. Chang started his empire in 2004 with the opening of the flagship Momofuku noodle bar in the East Village of NYC. Space-wise, the restaurant was comparable in square footage to the walk-in closets of a N.J. housewife. But what he lacked in space, Chang compensated for in unrivaled flavor and execution. Now, Chang boasts an empire of restaurants and an unwavering following. Not to mention a level of celebrity. Chang has modeled for Uniqlo and graced the pages of Vogue himself. Not bad for a guy who used to answer phones for Tom Colicchio, eh? Haters are gonna hate, but at the end of the day, Chang is creating some of the best food in the world right now. He’s putting a new level of Asian cuisine on the map, one that’s inarguably delicious and modern. 

Berkshire Pork, Pork Belly, and Poached Egg Ramen at Momofuku
Amazing ramen dish at Momofuku - CC Image via arnold | inyaki / Flickr
My recommended dishes:
  • Buns (Any they offer, including shrimp, pork, and brisket); 
  • Momofuku Ramen; and 
  • Crispy Pork Shank.

(Top image courtesy of akeeris / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Guest blog post written by Sue Song - HI-YAH! The Top 4 Asian-American Chefs in America

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