"That's the mentality of Chinese cooks coming to America, 'How do we adapt our Chinese techniques to American produce?' And I think the success of Chinese food in America is because of the skill and the creativity of Chinese chefs—to be able to make those adaptations and also to make new dishes out of what they were feeling were really great produce or products." –Brandon Jew
This week, we're excited to welcome Chef Brandon Jew and food writer Tienlon Ho to Salt + Spine, the podcast on stories behind cookbooks.
Brandon Jew and co-author, Tienlon Ho, joined us to talk about their recent cookbook: Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food.
Mister Jiu's—the restaurant on which the book is based—sits in San Francisco's Chinatown on Waverley Place. In 2013, when the famed restaurant Four Seas closed down, Brandon decided to open his own place. But before Mister Jiu's, Brandon was cooking in some of the best kitchens in the Bay; a student of Judy Rogers at Zuni Cafe and Michael Tusk at Quince, Brandon started his cooking career with California cuisine, riffing on French and Italian classics and always, always honoring the ingredients.
But when Brandon's paternal grandmother passed away from cancer, he realized that her culinary knowledge and skill could be lost, too. In the book, he describes his grandmother (his Ying-Ying) as the family cook, reminiscing on the incredible food she cooked for the family. After she passed, Brandon says he hit a turning point. He began to look away from Mediterranean cuisine, leaving Quince and flying to Shanghai where he learned more about the complex and diverse culinary history of China.
His debut cookbook, written with Ho, tells both the story of Mister Jiu's the restaurant as well as the story of San Francisco's Chinatown—one full of hardships and struggle, but also joy and celebration. Brandon and Tienlon put this tradition and history at the forefront of their work, just as Brandon does in the kitchen at Mister Jiu's.
The cookbook features countless recipes, with an entire section devoted to the Chinese American pantry and fermentation. But the recipes are honest and as complex as the food you'll find in Mister Jiu's. For instance, some of the recipes take multiple days to prepare, and one asks for over two dozen ingredients and specialty tools you might not have at the ready in your home kitchens. But many remain very accessible for home cooks.
Stick around to hear why it is that Brandon and Tienlon were uncompromising when it came to the recipes, about growing up Chinese American, and about the Mister Jiu's kitchen that—like Zuni Cafe and Chez Panisse before it—is teaching a new generation of cooks how to carry a rich culinary tradition into the future. Plus, as always, we're closing today's episode with a culinary game, and you'll find meticulous and beautiful recipes from Mister Jiu's in Chinatown here on our website.