April Chan wrote a piece for the SF Chronicle’s Many Chinas Many Tables project (which I’m a part of too, full disclosure), that I think our broader community would find of interest. Any thoughts?
You would think San Francisco would be the place where this would most naturally come together and thrive.
In my area (the Triangle of NC) most of the restaurants that focus on organic tend to fall within 3 categories: older places with hippy/earthy crunchy roots, pricey farm to table focused restaurants which often dabble in “global” cuisine, and vegetarian or vegan places motivated by philosophy rather than a tradition. I can’t remember seeing a restaurant of a specific cuisine (Greek, Polish, Mexican, etc.) which had a strong organic focus.
The author mentions the older generation having a strong eye towards value. I think that could be part of it across cultures. Sometimes the older generations patronage has several facets: to maintain the connection to their community, have a taste of “home”, expose their children to that community. I’ve witnessed many cases of the next generation just wanting to not be different trying to just eat “American” food. It’s can seem like a pendulum swinging back and forth! Might just need another 10-20 years until this is not even an issue.
It has often seemed to me that it takes until the 3rd or 4th generation for people to have released from the patterns of their ancestor’s past experiences. Not just culturally - the great depression is a good example. I did not live through it but I was influenced by my grandparents’ methods of response to the hardships. My nieces and nephews have not picked up any of the frugal habits that the prior 2 generations absorbed and lived by without consciously doing so.
The ethnicities that I’ve observed this in relation to food most closely have been Jewish and Greek. Jewish Delis exhibit much of this. 1st generation the deli was a major part of the person’s identity, community bonds, and eating habits. 2nd generation going to the deli was more of a family tradition rather than a reaffirming of community. 3rd generation food choices more directed by the culture at large - low fat, low carb, etc. so delis start to have trouble. Now 4th generation there are a lot of younger people reinventing deli with a mix of heritage coupled with current awareness of sourcing, etc. I was raised in an area with a large Greek population and have seen this play out in a less dramatic fashion within that community.
Hope I conveyed my wandering thoughts in an understandable manner. The article prompted many ideas and my mind probably scattered a bit trying to chase after them all!
On the fiscal side, the first generation makes the fortune; the second generation enjoys the fortune; the third loses it.
Not only in the States, same in France. Chinese food has the perception of being oily, unhealthy, spicy and dirty restaurant, so it is expected food has to be cheap. Many of the first generation restaurant offer buffet type of meal or those already cooked traiteur and reheat in microwave take away food. The second generation are now doing northern Chinese cuisine, proposing more spicy food, which the younger French can accept. I don’t think I ever see an organic Chinese restaurant here.
There is a type of Franco Chinese fusion, with white chefs e.g. Yam Tcha’s Adeline Grattard (teams with husband, a Hong Kong Chinese), or Dan’s Jérôme Billot (works with a Chinese wife), then they can charge with the premium price because of their “creativity”. You can find very fine expansive Chinese food in Paris but with the 5 stars hotel groups.
I remember several years ago, there was a mainland restaurant group opening a branch in Paris, they closed down after 1 year because their clients were only wealthy Chinese. There were no French clients.
We took our Belgian/Italian friends to a Chinese dinner in 2015 in the 9th. Not likely the same, but similar to your description.
My friends were the only non-whites in the restaurant. Seemed the greater percentage were Mainlanders. The couple sitting next to us were Chinese from Las Vegas.
Do you know this restaurant, is it still alive? I think the name is etched on the service, I can’t make it out on my phone.
The food was quite good. We were quite surprised that our guests ate and enjoyed it all, peppers and all. They actually really loved it.
[Paris 9e] Les Trois Royaumes
The customers most concerned about ingredient sourcing are not necessarily the same customers looking to eat out at a Chinese restaurant, or mexican or indian etc.
Or- as i have witnessed with friends of friends and coworkers there is a strange divide of buying and making organic high quality foods at home yet looking the other way when eating out and craving an ethnic food favorite.
I am thinking one option would be offer customers the choice, $xx for conventional preparation and $$x for the organic/sustainable option as a way to satisfy both the older generation looking for value as well as those who would prefer the organic option.
I don’t think this customer point of view is exclusive to chinese food, i think it’s the same value oriented approach also used for other ethnic cuisines