To me, food is an ideal way to understand the world. Dining is intensely personal, communal, and global.
Growing up the only child at the table surrounded by graying perms, shining silk clothes, and the bustle of vested balding Chinese servers, I embraced the role of observer at an early age. This fascination with my numerous relatives’ coded arguments and these faux-pagoda, koi pond bearing restaurants pushed me towards deciphering the meaning behind behavior that others overlooked. Later, the mounds of foreign textures, mysterious brown sauces, and whole animals would become essential to my identity as I embraced my difference.
On the other side of the kitchen doors, cooks of different races and nationalities bond over tiring and intense food service. During one stage, I worked under experienced French-born chefs and learned alongside fellow commis, trainees who had recently migrated from Algeria, Senegal, and Brazil. These two groups seemed incompatible outside of the kitchen, with an older pastry chef describing the international movies he watched with his wife while commis packed leftovers for their siblings and asked me about American girls. However, our kitchen bonded through respect for each other’s dedication (and sometimes soccer or Rihanna). Despite constant jokes about nationality, respect, not derision, defined relationships within the kitchen. Although my coworkers called me “the Japanese” (regardless of my Chinese background), when the chefs invited patrons to stay for wine, they would serve us at the same time, rummaging through the kitchens for sodas for the Muslim cooks. On the other hand, patrons largely forgot about the commis’ while taking photos with the chefs. Only one man ever approached our dishwashing corner and shook our hands with a thank you.
I still think about this rare gesture of empathy, for this man overlooked the boundaries people draw between themselves and others. Assumptions about class, race, nationality, and education render essential workers invisible, but this customer acknowledged our importance. I hope to show this same appreciation and understanding that transcends borders.
My passion is connecting food, culture, and racial issues in America. Events like that handshake pushes me to cross boundaries and develop this website. This space will harness food to better understand the complex, diverse America that exists today. I will utilize the kitchen, social science, and cultural studies to explore this country’s divisions. Thank you for joining along in this journey.