Honest, I just do not “get” the whole issue. Am I missing the point (I’ll admit maybe I am, lol)?
Personally, “ethnic authenticity” not something I worry about much. A great chef is a great chef, and there’s not as many around as we like to think.
Sophina Uong’s Cambodian by race and Californian by upbringing. If that disqualifies her from making the most amazing fried green tomatoes at Pican, or the sous-vide goat at Revival; let alone Calavera’s stunning chile verde salsa (SO MUCH better than before under Irabien) and octopus ceviche with avocado and pineapple…well, all I can say is, those folks can feel free to stay away and give up their seats to us. Woohoo!
We have followed her to three restaurants and will continue to do so as long as she remains in the Bay Area. She is one of the very few chefs we do follow, in fact.
As an Asian I don’t feel insulted when someone else wants to cook Asian food. Banks White, another chef we follow, cooks SE Asian food better than 95% of the SE Asian restaurants in the Bay Area. My Hong Kong-born DH has been impressed every time by White’s cooking, whether at FIVE or at The Keystone. He remarked he’s never encountered a non-Asian chef before - and that includes Douglas Keane, btw - who has such a perfect feel for Asian flavors.
I’m not sure of the exact percentages, but I understand the majority of restaurant help, including line cooks and up-and-coming chefs, are Hispanics. So…are we supposed to suddenly limit them to “only” cooking Latin American food?
One of the greatest Cantonese chefs I ever knew made a luscious grilled Porterhouse steak with Chinese flavors that remains the best beef I’ve ever eaten, and I’m 65 yrs old with a whole lot of Chicago steak around my waistline. It was better than any steakhouse could do. Should I have dissed it because it wasn’t “authentically U.S.”?
After all, my grandmother was “authentically” Japanese, from Tokyo; one of the first women to graduate from college back in the 1870’s, in fact. But I’m sorry to report, she was a lousy cook. I mean, seriously awful. Every one of my nine aunts and uncles agree on that. She s&*#ked in the kitchen, although she loved growing food. I could certainly make you a dinner that is just like what she used to do, but authentic doesn’t automatically mean good, in any language.
Now, if we are talking about (today’s) restaurants that exist on hype and race from trend to trend, wouldn’t that be more the restaurateur and VCs? There aren’t really that many chefs who are so well known that a new restaurant bearing their name will be an automatic success. Look at some of the recent 'crash and burn" new places that have recently closed in Napa and the Mid-Market SF. So much more, as Bradford points out, is involved in whether a restaurant succeeds or not.
The issue just seems a bit absurd if we’re looking at real-life examples. Do we throw stones at Michael Chiarello because he loved Spanish food enough to open Coqueta? I’m willing to throw the verbal brickbats if I don’t like the restaurant’s cooking - but not from the idea that he has no right as an Italian-American to cook Spanish food.
“Respect” is such a loaded word. There’s plenty of “authentic” young chefs cooking their heritage that I personally don’t respect as chefs at all. I think we all have different standards, and that’s a GOOD thing. That’s why the Bay Area supports so many varied restaurants at all price levels, of so many cuisines, with such enthusiastic creativity.
One problem with ethnic cooking is that the quality of ingredients limits it. I just don’t see what’s wrong with using better quality sourcing.
It reminds me of what I said to my in-laws, the first time I tried their beloved pressed rice with the Chinese preserved duck (those flattened ducks you see hanging on clotheslines in the backyards of SF Sunset homes).
“Okay, this is what you do when you don’t have refrigerators!”