The Asian Culinary Forum is the vehicle of two food writers who live, breathe and eat food. Co-directors Andrea Nyugen and Thy Tran say it’s due time that Asian cuisine, often underrated and lumped together, steps into the limelight.
“People in the U.S. know plenty about different kinds of bread and coffee but very little about Asian food,” Nguyen said. “We are establishing the point of view not as outsiders exoticizing the food. We try to demystify Asian cuisine but not compromise their essence.”
Their intent is to elevate Asian cuisine to an unprecedented level of attention, discussion and esteem.
“Think about the amount of attention to Italy, this boot in Europe, and compare it to the enormous landmass of Asia, and the fact that no one talks about Pakistani food in the way they talk about Italian,” Tran said.
This weekend the group is organizing a weekend spectacular one year in the making. With the theme of “Asian Food Beyond Borders,” it will include panel discussions with researchers and a full-day symposium to explore Asian food culture, in addition to cooking demonstrations, tastings and restaurant tours.
Their backgrounds as food writers have informed their “extremely multi-disciplinary” approach to the event: It will bring together academics, chefs, homecooks, authors, freelance writers, bloggers, nutritionists, filmmakers and performance artists. As for the topic of rice—no less than a rice researcher, rice importer and rice grower.
All these elements are necessary to tell the whole story of Asian cuisine, which is so much more than something we put into our bellies, according to Tran.
“I think food is the lens that crosses disciplines and interests,” she said. “It’s our way into how different people interpret culture—how they identify and express themselves, hang onto memories, explore creativity make changes politically.”
The group is hoping to associate new ideas, like art, with Asian cuisine to break common misconceptions. “I find a very tired narrative of ethnic food with a lot of stereotypes—that it’s cheap, that it’s old women with mortar and pestle, women squatting on the floor or the boy with a buffalo and straw hat,” Tran said. “It’s very provocative when you bring in art because it breaks people’s preconceptions.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly and given the Bay Area’s reputation as a culinary capital and with the region’s large population of Asian Americans, there seems to be overwhelming interest in the topic. The group’s first event in July—a discussion by noted Bay Area chefs on their careers—sold out.
And they are more than welcome to feed those hungry for new ideas about Asian cuisine and culture. “Whoever is interested, come to the table,” Nguyen said.
Asian Food Beyond Borders
A weekend of classes, tours, workshops and panel discussions presented by the Asian Culinary Forum.
October 10 to 12
Various locations in downtown San Francisco, including the Ferry Building, Sur La Table in Union Square,
Chinatown and Le Colonial restaurant.
firstname.lastname@example.org or asianculinaryforum.org