NEW YORK—”Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” These oft-cited words from 19th century French gourmet epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin reflect our common desire to understand a culture through eating its food.
New Yorkers got the chance to know more than a dozen Asian countries—all in one go—at Taste Asia Friday, June 26, to Saturday, 27. Held in Times Square, it is one of the largest food festivals in North America.
Now in its second year, the gastronomic festival presented by Epoch Times and sister media company New Tang Dynasty Television has expanded to include a lineup of renowned chefs inspired and influenced by different Asian culinary traditions.
Throughout Friday, Taste Asia’s outdoor kitchens, where celebrity chefs cooked up some of their signature dishes, was definitely a central attraction.
Each chef was dedicated to discovering new flavors and creating new dishes by traversing Western and Asian cuisines, while respecting the age-old traditions within each realm.
Japanese Meets French Cuisine
Michelin-star French chef David Bouley stands by the same principle. After traveling to Japan and learning to cook traditional Japanese multicourse kaiseki cuisine (often compared to Western haute cuisine), Bouley opened Brushstroke in Tribeca.
The restaurant serves dishes that are modern interpretations of kaiseki cuisine, such as the porcini mushroom flan with Dungeness crab and black truffle dashi (Japanese cooking stock) that Bouley cooked on Friday.
Having learned from the best at Japan’s Tsuji Culinary Institute, Bouley understands the importance of respecting the integrity of Japanese cuisine, while honoring his own style of French cooking. Combine them, and you get a dish that’s truly unique.
“You have to understand the techniques and ingredients to really respect them. You can’t just grab things and throw them together,” Bouley said, eschewing the type of “fusion cuisine” that usually does just that.
He explained that Friday’s dish combined two dishes that are steeped in each cuisine’s history: the French flan, and the Japanese chawanmushi, a traditional appetizer typically made from steamed egg custard.
“Each dish has evolved over a long, long period of time,” Bouley said. “They complement the cultural history of each dish, and do not distract.”
Breaking Down Barriers
Without a doubt, Asian cuisine is now being reinvigorated in the Western world.
Brian Tsao of Mira Sushi & Izakaya, himself a chef who mixes Western cooking with Asian flavors, foresees Korean cuisine exploding onto the food scene in the next few years.
People are more open to trying new foods these days, but Tsao said there’s more work to be done.
He observed that in New York City, for example, Asian cuisine is still mainly patronized by Asian communities.
“It’s almost intimidating for a lot of people to go to Flushing. Or it’s intimidating to go to K-town [Korea Town] unless you know someone who regularly goes there,” Tsao said.
But he sees the barriers slowly breaking down.
That was certainly the case at Taste Asia on Friday, as Times Square tourists and New Yorkers alike reveled in the cultural performances—such as traditional Korean drumming, Japanese koto (stringed instrument) music, Bollywood Indian dancing—and the endless display of delicious Asian food.
On June 27, crowds gathered to watch the 7th Annual International Chinese Culinary Competition, which crowned the world’s best Chinese chefs across five major regional cuisines.
People had their say as well, in picking the best Asian restaurants in New York City across 62 different categories in the Best Asian NYC Restaurants Contests, as well as the best Chinese restaurants.
Taste Asia ended on a festive note at James Beard House, where chefs Hemant Mathur and Surbhi Sahni served Bengali and Keralan dishes at lunch, and chef Zizhao Luo of Radiance served an authentic Cantonese feast at dinner.