Arriving in America in the 1970’s I was introduced to a few American Chinese restaurants that still served chop suey and chow mein. I remembered that one particular item on the menu aroused my curiosity. It was Moo Goo Gai Pan. Expecting a dish with mushrooms and chicken I ordered it. Imagine my horror when the dish arrived displaying a rainbow array of vegetables with pork slices. There was no Moo Goo. There was no Gai Pan.
Last Thursday there was a two-inch red headline in the World Journal (世界日報) profiling me and my culinary endeavors. I was very excited by this coverage. Through the Culinary Historian of New York I was invited this past March to participate in a panel discussion on “Chinese Food in America Today.” During the event I met a reporter from World Journal, the largest Chinese language newspaper in North America. A few weeks later this reporter emailed and wanted to write a profile about my cooking experience. So she interviewed me and a photographer took pictures of me during one of my cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education.
In Ba Jin’s (巴金) epic Chinese literary trilogy: Family, Spring and Autumn (家,春,秋), the author describes the life of a Chinese aristocratic family during the final years of the feudalistic Qing dynasty. It was a tumultuous time in which the family members had to negotiate changing political landscape as dynastic rule disintegrated, as well as the family’s own struggle between generations over changing values and aspirations. Ba Jin was a great observer and narrator of a China struggling within and without while falling into chaos at the beginning of the twentieth century. Among all the confusions and upheaval, there is one single constant and that is the communal family meal.