Sour Sweet Bitter Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America

The oral history interviews in this collection are a central part of the Sour Sweet Bitter Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America exhibition that runs from October 6, 2016 to March 27, 2017. The exhibition weaves together a grand, complex story of Chinese food in America through interviews of home cooks; pioneering chefs such as Martin Yan, Ken Hom and Cecilia Chiang; and new restauranteurs like Peter and Lisa Chang, Jason Wang, Vivian Ku, and Danny Bowien.


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2016.037.021 Oral History Interview with Kimmie Lee Tie

Kimmie Lee Tie discusses her early life in China and how World War II impacted her family and interestingly her diet. She talks about the experiences she had cooking on her familys small farm and how after the war she married a Chinese American sailor and moved to the United States. Living in the US, Kimmie and her husband bought a Cantonese restaurant in 1957 which they operated for twenty years. In this environment, she taught herself how to cook with a wok and developed her Chinese American tastes. Make sure to listen in for her personal recipes, especially her favorite butterfly shrimp.



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2016.037.022 Oral History Interview with Michael Tong 2016/03/11

Michael Tong describes his path from his birth of Anhui to becoming one of the most successful restaurateurs in New York City with two four-star restaurants. Moving first to Shanghai and Hong Kong before settling in the US, Mr. Tong studied civil engineering but chose to work in a NYC restaurant after graduation. From there, he opened up two restaurants, Shun Lee Palace and Shun Lee West, where he developed his love for different Chinese cuisines and helped bring Sichuan and Hunanese food to New York and the US. Tune in to hear his thoughts on what makes certain Chinese food authentic and his view of how Chinese food and American tastes have changed since the 1970s.



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2016.037.023 Oral History Interview with Ming Tsai 2015/10/19

Ming Tsai talks with MOCA about his lifelong relationship with food and how he came to be one of the most successful East-West fusion chefs. Listen in as Ming explains the role that food and cooking played in his early life growing up around his grandparents in a Chinese-American household and visiting Taiwan. Despite going to Yale for a degree in engineering, he ultimately decided to become a chef, and after working in several famous French kitchens and culinary schools, he pursued a hospitality degree at Cornell which launched him into hotel management. He eventually followed his dream of becoming a chef-owner at his own restaurant, Blue Ginger. Throughout the discussion, Ming weaves in beautiful anecdotes about food and his philosophy of how to blend cuisines successfully. He concludes his discussion with his thoughts on the importance of charity in his life and his experience using food for diplomacy.



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2016.037.024 Oral History Interview with Jason Wang 2015/10/23

Jason Wang was born in XiAn, China and moved to the U.S. when he was eight years old. Wang and his family lived in various suburban communities during his childhood while his father worked at different Chinese restaurants. Wang’s father eventually opened a bubble tea franchise that later evolved into their successful XiAn Famous Foods restaurant. After spending college breaks helping his father at the bubble tea shop and feeling ungratified by his post-graduation corporate job, Wang decided to begin his career as a restauranteur with his father. Wang helped his father update XiAn Famous Foods by translating its menu into English and creating a website for the business. The original Flushing, Queens location developed a solid fanbase and saw even greater success after Anthony Bourdain mentioned the eatery on his hit television show No Reservations in 2008. Since then, XiAn Famous Foods has expanded to over ten locations across New York City five boroughs. Wang is proud to have pioneered the previously unknown street cuisine of his hometown in America. He hopes that their “fast-casual” restaurant model will enable them to expand to other regions in the U.S. and introduce an increasingly adventurous American public to Xian classics like their iconic liang pi “cold-skin noodles.”



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2016.037.025 Oral History Interview with Doron Wong 2015/10/30

Doron Wong grew up in Boston, Massachusetts in a traditional Cantonese family. Wong father emphasized the importance of understanding their familys cultural heritage during Wong childhood. His first experience in the restaurant world was a job at a local pizzeria when he was a teenager. During high school Wong experience working at an Asian fusion restaurant solidified his desire to pursue a career in the culinary world. Wong attended culinary school before moving to New York City and working under renowned chef David Burke. Continuing his culinary career abroad, he further refined his skills in various Hong Kong and Singapore kitchens. Wong began working with celebrity chef Susur Lee while in Singapore, developing his Chinese cooking skills and later assisting Susur Lee with his first NYC restaurant, Shang. Wong hopes his Yunnan and Cantonese cooking will help dispel stereotypes about Chinese food in America.



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2016.037.029 Oral History Interview with Martin Yan 2015/12/11

Chef Martin Yan discusses the experiences that have made him the chef and television personality he is today. Martin grew up in Guangzhou during a turbulent period in modern China when there was famine and political unrest. Since childhood, he was exposed to food and ingredients because his parents owned a small restaurant and grocery store. He ate his mothers cooking and explains how it was necessary to stretch the limited ingredients available. He moved to Hong Kong for the opportunity to attend a Christian high school while working at a popular catering restaurant as a kitchen helper and a barbeque chef. After graduating from high school, he learned from a professional chef for about eight months. In exchange for free lessons, he helped the chef shop and prep the ingredients, a practice that helped him learn to identify what is fresh. With sponsorship from a Christian church, he went abroad to America to attend school. Struggling to make enough money for college, Martin persisted in acquiring a job despite being under qualified. He started holding a cooking class teaching local professionals about Chinese cuisine and culture at the University of California Davis, doing catering and pursuing his degree. After completing his degree, he immigrated to Canada and partnered up with a friend from Hong Kong to open a restaurant. He is recruited to be a replacement by a local radio stations personnel who frequented the restaurant to be a stand-in for a talk show program. Martin receives an offer to make the first season of his Yan Can Cook series, proceeds to publish a recipe cook book and completes two more seasons of the show. Now, he continues to travel the world to taste food and learn about other cultures, attend conferences, give lectures and cook. He discusses the recent trends of Chinese cuisine becoming specific and diversified and the differences between Western and Eastern food culture. Martin emphasizes the importance of being himself, upholding confidence, and continuing to persist to overcome struggles and survive. Most of all, with his passionate career of cooking, teaching, and sharing his craft with the world, he feels proud to be a Chinese American and encourages everyone to have fun in whatever they do.



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2016.037.031 Oral History Interview with Chris Yeo

Chris Yeo sits down with MOCA to talk about his experience leaving Singapore and coming to the US where he opened a series of successful restaurants. He explains his journey from opening a salon to becoming a restaurateur and several of the things that hes learned about cooking for American patrons. He discusses his family and how his cooking stems from a desire to please people. Chris also shares some anecdotes about his experience on Food Network and speaking at the Smithsonian institute.



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2016.037.032 Oral History Interview with Grace Young Interview 2016/03/11

This oral history focuses on Grace Young, a food writer who has authored three books on her family’s Cantonese stir fry cuisine. Grace grew up in San Francisco as a first-generation Chinese American and pursued a career in Western styles of food before exploring her familys traditional style of Chinese cooking. Through this journey, she learned about the Chinese American experience through the lens of food and how food acts as a link in the Chinese diaspora. Graces first book, Wisdom of the Kitchen, recounts her familys recipes and stories, which were collected by observing her parents techniques. The Breath of the Wok focuses on the important tradition of the iron wok in the home kitchen, a practice that is disappearing in Chinese homes. Stir-Frying to the Skys Edge offers Graces advice on stir fry and contains interviews from Chinese cooks around the world.



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2016.037.033 Oral History Interview with Wenbin Yuan

This oral history focuses on the culinary practice of Wenbin Yuan, a home cook of Shanxi food residing in Wisconsin. Yuan recounts his experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution, under the strict rationing of food supplies by the Chinese government. Yuans family worked in railroad construction and manufacturing, and consists of himself and his two younger siblings. In his youth, Yuan described his diet as extremely simplistic, based on starch products like corn flour, sorghum flour, and state-designated home-grown vegetable crops like potato, tomato, and green onion. Sugar, meat, oil, and wheat flour were limited luxuries. Yuan describes his style of cooking as a typical Shanxi diet based on noodles, demonstrating several representative methods of dough-making, cutting, and seasoning. He recounts memorable meals from childhood, including regional New Years foods like za hui cai and his first restaurant experience at the Moscow Restaurant in Beijing. Yuan remembers, of his arrival to the United States a student, being amazed the variety of food available. On the topic of Chinese food in the US, Yuan feels that the current landscape of Americanized Chinese restaurants still cater to majority American audiences, with tastes he finds too greasy, starchy, and sweet. At the same time, however, Yuan is optimistic that regional cuisines and more authentic Chinese foods like dumpling and baozi are becoming more accepted by the mainstream. Asked about his thoughts on food and immigration, Yuan emphasizes the cultural/ethnic diversity within China, and thus the multiplicity of Chinese cooking, as well as the many differences between different “waves” of Chinese immigrants to the US. Yuan envisions the future with a continual increase in Chinese professionals and business investors coming to the United States, bringing with them an increasingly normalized view of “authentic” Chinese foods.