Friday, June 8, 2012
Home Sweet Home
It's good to be home. On. this. mother. fucking. blog.
Ahhh, do you know how hard it was to write for Gilt Taste without one of those? I love blogs. You know why? Because in publications, whether it's the NY Times, NY Observer, Gilt Taste, etc. you have masters. I wasn't going to write anymore on this topic until I saw Oliver Strand's Facebook post, which was brilliant and this piece in the LA Weekly by Tien Nguyen. I liked both of their pieces because it pulled the conversation out of food. The way people responded to the article was so micro, when the issue is clearly macro. We could be talking about aztec prints in fashion, the image of Buddha throughout different countries, and even Christianity. It's not just food that is redefined and remixed through war nor is it just white people doing it... I came in through the medium of food, but I'm dying for people to understand the concepts we talk about outside the context of food. It's not about Chefs and Rockstars, Chefs and Music, or Chefs and Authenticity. What I'm really interested in is the evolution of culture and it's relationship with race, economics, and power. It just so happens that food is the most interesting starting point for this discussion today (in my opinion).
A few misconceptions about the article that happened mainly because of the original NY Times headline and then the Gilt Taste one, it's not about "White Chefs". That would be entirely unfair. It just happens that at this and many other points in history, White people hold the keys. I will also say that it's not about America. I'm here. That should tell you every thing you need to know. I could move somewhere else, but I choose to be here. I strongly feel that NY is trying to do it right and I want to be part of it. The conversation is not about one race or one country, it is about power...
I have no problem with localized Jamaican Chinese, Cuban Chinese, Peruvian mishmash, etc. Those things are all ok, because Jamaica doesn't have the power to re-define the food no matter how good it is. What scares us about White American chefs is that they have the power, network, messaging to take something and make it theirs. No other group at this time on the planet has the power to do that except maybe the Japanese, but come on, how seriously do you take a 5' food dude with a 1/10 inch thick knife that can be snapped in half. They don't even have a standing military (besides Self-Defense Forces) dude. No matter how good they make viper ice cream, they will never over take Baskin Robbins. Take the example of Koreans, in terms of taste, I would whole heartedly argue that Bonchon creates a new paradigm. You can't fuck with that chicken. My friends of you know what background have sworn me to secrecy when I take them to Bonchon, "Mother fucker if you tell anyone I told you that Asians fry chicken better than us, I'll fucking cut you. But if it stays between us, you win. Just keep it to yourself."
Unless Kim Jung Un is some sort of savant that learned the levitation technique and can walk on water, Korea does not have the power to "take" fried chicken. Look at their attempts with pop music. They DOMINATE the continent of Asia. Asia, that large pile of blood, bones, but not butter, which no one can hold in a game of Risk. Girls Generation kills it by epic proportions and are bigger stars than anyone has ever been outside The Beatles but in America they are dead on impact. Even if America bleeds economically, culturally, it's global Brooklyn. It's not cool until America and BK co-sign it. For the record, just cause you sell artisan pickles from Brooklyn does not make it cool, that's cheating. Moving to Brooklyn does not automatically make your shit awesome. Nor does putting it in a mason jar. That just means the cops won't smell it. Lastly, China may have money and bodies, but culturally it's the butt of ironic jokes. Can you really respect a country that is incapable of providing proper restroom signage?
I just hope that we've reached a point in history where we can exchange, share, and evolve cultures but not cut things off from their history. It's not irrational to want this. As much as we still fight wars, I think people globally understand that blood is bad for business. Can I get a Stringer Bell? Thank you. I also feel, trickling down from that umbrella sentiment that people understand that "conquering" is not the way to go culturally either. Some examples are the resistance to a "National Language" designation. The ability to vote in NY in 100 different languages even if the entire system is inefficient and cosmetic. Open source culture on the internet has really facilitated exchange as well even if some people in Silicone Valley are encouraging open source phase one, only to swallow them up in an colonial way in phase two. These are larger discussions. Every thing is a trap door, but my debatable point is... that people know it's wrong to appropriate and that awareness makes our generation unique. Thanks, Edward Said.
That's a crucial point. The recognition that taking something and cutting it off from it's home is wrong. Take Yao Ming, he came to America, he played in the NBA, but it was never forgotten where he came from. He was never "taken" from us. The Williams sisters, were never taken or claimed as anything but Black American. But Asian Women dating White Men, that upsets people... Why?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with interracial dating. I date every thing. But, If you read OkCupid metrics or have two eyes, you know that White men are at an advantage dating Asian women and Asian men are at a disadvantage to date people of our own race. The inverse happens to Black Women. A part of me thinks it's karma for how badly Asian women are treated and I accept it, but still it's crushing to face the fact that people of your "ilk" want to export their ovaries. In a way, food is going that way. It's harder for a person to cook food from their own motherland on a one or two star level because white chefs are redefining it as something that native cooks don't understand and can't participate in. I have no idea how to take an Asian Woman to Lincoln Center unless I pay Mike Madrigale to do it for me after his shift at Bar Boulud. I don't have that game. We would never have the power to "take"American food or White Women, although I do see the White Woman-Asian Man thing in Williamsburg these days and I thank the gods for Adobe Illustrator. Thank you for giving us something we're good at that will please the people of the pink nipples. I worship you, Adobe Creative Suite. All I've wanted my entire life is to make some White Women happy and reverse the damage done by William Hung. Now if only we could get white chicks to play Counterstrike...
Which brings me to Chang once again. Look, y'all, it's unavoidable, we were both born in the DMV, we like the Redskins, we sell pork buns, we come off as assholes. Regardless, I will say that one of the most interesting things about David Chang, is that he qualifies his food with all the kim chi, ramen, and baos as New-American. If people accept that premise over time, then give him the keys because I've never seen an Asian person redefine American culture in America. I definitely think he's close to accomplishing it with Milk Bar and that's ill. I don't know if that's his goal, but as a spectator, I'm interested. To have a Korean-American potentially owning the most successful New-American bakery would be a victory of epic proportions. Like Haley's comet, I want to see it. My dad owned a steakhouse and hired a white manager to front as an owner, just like Christina Tosi (LOL), and told me "We have to do this because no one will buy steak from a Chinaman." That's not why he has Tosi, she can cook and be successful autonomously, but I'm saying. In breaking things down for a discussion on power, it's relevant to see what tools were used to flip the script. EAT THAT CRACK PIE and read the Momofuku Cookbook, it's the best I've read. Just don't try to redefine Gua Bao as something New-American and derivative of Peking Duck at Oriental Garden, a Cantonese restaurant, that mistakenly and lazily served Peking Duck with Gua Bao instead of pancakes. What you mean to say is Taiwan... and "Yeah, it's mine!"