Something truly incredible bubbled its way through the growing mundane of my day-to-day. After the unprecedented global sensation, Subtle Asian Traits (SAT) launched and saw a groundbreaking following, spinoff groups spawned left and right, such as the Asian Creative Network (ACN) and has been where I have found an expected home alongside incredibly talented artists. I found community within this group of driven creatives and entrepreneurs, just trying to navigate their passions and forge their own paths in life. ACN turned out to be exactly the spark I needed to reignite and reimagine my own passions and remember what M.S.G is all about: storytelling and feeding mouths.
The ACN NY Showcase was a place for local Asian artists to showcase their talents and skills, with a variety of different creative media being expressed and represented, an opportune moment for me to break out of my comfort zone and showcase my own work to the public and hopefully tell my story with it. We dreamt up a full 5 course menu, showcasing the creativity and research that should go into “fusion” cooking, included vegetarian and gluten-free options, and even made and bottled our own hot sauce.
To start as an quick amuse bouche, an aka miso cornbread with honey yuzu kosho butter. The cornbread adapted one of our previous recipes: the vegan red miso cornbread from our peanut miso stew. Similarly, this cornbread was also vegan, using the deep umami flavors of aka (red) miso to bring out the natural sweetness of corn. We doubled-down on the corn flavor by steeping the corn cobs in soy milk, making sure we didn’t waste anything. Yuzu kosho - a salty, sour, bitter, and spicy paste made of yuzu, salt and chili peppers, would help add another layer of complexity to the dish.
For the first course of the menu, I wanted to bring another perspective on one of my favorites, green papaya salad. I wanted something that would be easy to carry and munch on while guests perused through the space and performances, so we turned green papaya salad into a pico de gallo-esque salsa. Made with roasted corn, connecting this course with the previous, tomato, diced green papaya and red onion, this dish had all the crunch and crispness of green papaya salad, but in a format suitable for transportation. We made homemade taro chips to act as the vessel for the salsa. The flavors came from lime, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and brown sugar. In Southeast Asia, a typical sweetener would be palm sugar, and while palm sugar is accessible in the States, it is highly unsustainable and is a major player in deforestation in Southeast Asia. After some discussion of Vietnamese dishes with a close friend, Becky Quach, I added a variety of herbs: rau răm (commonly called Vietnamese coriander), Thai basil, mint, and cilantro.
The next course was a returning favorite from the very first M.S.G event, cold sesame noodles with sichuan peppercorn. The numbing spice would give an expected sensation to diners while being refreshingly cold and savory. Finished with an herb oil made of the stems and trimmings of the herbs used in the last dish, the final product would be a sudden shift of flavors and cuisines from the previous. The sauce itself combined peanut butter, tahini, hoisin, honey, sesame oil, ground sichuan peppercorn and sichuan peppercorn oil. We wanted to double down on the numbing, or má (麻), flavors without any spicy, or là (辣), that you would find in many Sichuan dishes. Sichuanese food is commonly thought to just be about the combination of málà, but is much more about balancing flavors of spicy, numbing, salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and smoky. We attempted to do similar balancing of different flavors: nutty, rich, sweet, salty, bitter and numbing.
The following course was inspired by niúròu juǎnbǐng (牛肉捲餅), the scallion pancake beef roll I frequently ate growing up. Since this dish is typically a bit messy and not the easiest handheld eat, we adapted the dish into a pita pocket. Making homemade scallion pita, and cooking sliced ribeye with a glaze made from reducing down the components of a traditional 5-spice braise, we mimicked the exact flavors of the dish from my childhood. We made a baba ganoush to go with the pita, a common pairing, but broiled Japanese eggplants with hoisin sauce to use as the hoisin spread in the original dish and serving as the main link to the last course. Accompanying this dish were homemade cucumber pickles and a scallion salad.
For our final course, we made oatmeal shortbread cookies, an American classic, with not so American ingredients. We used mochiko, sweet glutinous rice, flour to give the cookie a brittle, crumbly, yet soft texture and paired this with a salted caramel made from aka miso looping back the menu to the start.
Our hot sauce was inspired by flavors of Southeast Asia. We used similar flavors and ingredients: fish sauce, dried shrimp, lemongrass and ginger and added in bright freshness from lime, a muted acidity from rice vinegar, and sweetness from brown sugar (as opposed to palm sugar). In Thai cuisine, there are 5 key flavors that need to be balanced: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. For our bitter component, we used preserved limes, which we made in-house. Preserved citrus mutes the bitterness enough from the peels so it is palatable and adds saltiness, sourness, and depth from fermentation in addition to bitterness. Our source of spice comes from Thai bird’s eye chilis, packing quite a punch in the finished product. The sauce should offer a power kick along with subtle sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness.
The showcase was an incredible event and the stories that were shared were unbelievably inspiring. This was one of our most ambitious ventures yet, and our first step into catering external events. With any first step into a new battleground, there is bound to be a nervous excitement and sense of fear of the unknown and potential for failure. It seems our time has come to really start cooking and telling our story, now alongside our new family of ACN creatives.