Luke Tsai in East Bay Express: Cooking Other People's Food: How Chefs Appropriate Bay Area 'Ethnic' Cuisine [Oakland, Berkeley]

(Tom Hilton) #21

This is a bit tangential, but here’s a case of Gringo appropriation gone hideously wrong:

An online foodie magazine thought it would be a great idea to create a guide on how to eat Pho, a popular Vietnamese dish with an American chef who serves Vietnamese food in his restaurant in Philadelphia.

Reactions from Asian viewers of the video however highly indicated that his “proper consumption techniques,” did not sit well with the people who grew up eating the delicacy.

Philly-based chef Tyler Akin of Stock restaurant talked about his set of rules one must follow to “get the most out of your soup” via a two-minute video.

Eating alone? Get a eating companion.

Ha, Charles Phan, owner of Slanted Door, said many of those same things on the Sporkful podcast about pho that that dude is criticized about in the comments (e.g. that Vietnamese people don’t put hoisin in pho). The authenticity hammer is a tough enough weapon to wield when you’re native to a culture, especially when household/personal preferences, regional preferences, or second generation customs are said to be the “only way.”

(Tom Hilton) #23

Ha…yeah, I’m sure there are a million different ways to eat it, and everybody thinks theirs is the one. But Phan vs. Akin is the difference between “that’s not how we always ate it”, and “who the f*** are you to tell me how to eat a dish I grew up on?”


The difference between chefs getting acclaim from doing it better and respectfully, or chefs getting acclaim from bastardizing a cuisine.

It is pretty hard for someone not from a particular culture to master the flavors of a cuisine, if they haven’t sampled enough of the cuisine to know what makes the 90th percentile different from the 80th, or their different culinary background give them a different opinion on what’s good compared to the opinion of those of the culture. Nothing problematic about either of those since no one knows everything about cuisines they didn’t grow up with. When a chef perceived to be cooking something not good enough getting disproportionate acclaim / PR, it becomes a problem. But then, immigrant chefs/ restaurateurs may have little command of English, or little grasp of the mainstream US food PR machine, and as a result, maybe at a consistent disadvantage in the mainstream food media. They may, however, be well known in their immigrant circles (which unfortunately may not be very big). Do they need/ care about the mainstream acclaim? Maybe, maybe not. But perhaps a good mainstream review will allow them to charge higher prices.


That was my comment in the EBX that zippo and felice are referring to… I’m glad at least two people noticed it!

Here’s a recent article from the LA Weekly that touches on the same subject and even refers to Luke’s article:

I particularly appreciated the bit about Lucas Peterson’s tweet. I think that the stereotypes he points out are very powerful. Having advocates that will provide trustworthy counterpoints to these stereotypes (as J Gold does in LA) is needed if we’re going to allow the best places to thrive.