May is Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, which celebrates the rich cultures, traditions, histories, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the history of the United States. As a dining services provider, our celebration revolves around food, so it’s only natural to highlight this month through that lens. Let’s take a look at some of today’s notable Asian American and Pacific Islander chefs and their culinary contributions and achievements.
Chef Cristeta Comerford is in charge of the food in the most influential American home: the White House. Filipino-American chef Comerford was already working in the White House kitchens when she was appointed Executive Chef in 2005. When named to the position, she became the first woman and first person of Asian origin to hold the position. Flexibility is Comerford’s forte, as she plans everything from first family dinners to state dinners and other significant social functions.
It’s hard to classify the multitalented Eddie Huang, who’s achieved success in the culinary world as a chef and restaurateur, and in the entertainment world with a sitcom based on his bestselling memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat.” But those are only a few of Huang’s accomplishments (lawyer and clothing designer are also on his resume). Huang, however, would say that he’s the anti-chef. In an interview with NPR, Huang stated, “I never wanted to be a chef. I cooked food because it was the place that Asian people could have narratives in this country. I’m meant to write, and I want to tell stories.”
Chef, restaurateur, “Top Chef” contestant, television personality, and cookbook author Sheldon Simeon doesn’t stray far from his roots. The Hilo native’s culinary perspective is decidedly Hawaiian, but when you visit his restaurants Tin Roof and Lineage, you’ll find fusion cuisine at its finest, with nods to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino, and Japanese-inspired flavors. Simeon’s fresh take on Hawaiian food earned him “Food & Wine” magazine’s “People’s Best New Chef for the Pacific & Northwest” in 2014.
If you’re a fan of hybrid or fusion tacos, you should know that Roy Choi is the chef to thank. Choi skyrocketed to fame with delicious Korean-Mexican tacos, sold from his Kogi BBQ taco truck. Known as one of the founders of the gourmet food truck movement, chef Choi is also a successful restaurateur, author, and television personality. To be sure, Choi’s taco fame is anything but a fluke, especially with a degree from The Culinary Institute of America and time cooking at Le Bernardin. What started as a desire to introduce Korean food to people across Los Angeles became a brilliant fusion that incorporated an already popular local food: the taco.
Check out these recipes inspired by the culinary perspectives of Cristeta Comerford, Eddie Huang, Sheldon Simeon, and Roy Choi.
Filipino Marinated Chicken Adobo
2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
½ cup soy sauce 1 bay leaf
¼ cup Chinese black vinegar 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic ½ bunch scallions
STEP 1: Cut chicken into 1 ½ inch pieces. On a separate cutting board, chop garlic and green onions.
STEP 2: In a container, combine all ingredients except oil and green onions. Cover and refrigerate 12 hours or overnight.
STEP 3: Strain chicken marinade and reserve. Sear chicken in oil until browned.
STEP 4: Add reserved marinade and bring to a simmer. Cook until tender. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.
STEP 5: Continue to cook pan juices until slightly thickened. Remove bay leaf and pour over chicken. Garnish with green onions.
Shanghai-Style Braised Pork Belly
2 pounds pork belly 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 4-inch piece of ginger root 2 cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1 whole star anise seed
1 bunch green onions 1 stick cinnamon
1 dried hot chile pepper (optional) ½ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns ½ cup water
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
STEP 1: Slice ginger root. Cut white part of green onions into 3-inch pieces (do not need green parts).
STEP 2: Bring a pot of water to boil. Add pork belly and ginger, making sure they’re fully immersed. Cook for 5 minutes, skimming and removing any meat proteins that rise to the surface. Drain; rinse pork and ginger with cold water. Cut pork belly into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
STEP 3: Heat oil and sugar in a pot over low flame. Once sugar starts to melt, add pork, ginger, green onions (white parts), the chile pepper, and peppercorns. Increase heat to high and cook until browned.
STEP 4: Add wine and soy sauce to mixture, stirring constantly. Add 2 cups water, salt, star anise, and cinnamon stick to blanched pork belly. Bring to a gentle boil. Once mixture begins to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
STEP 5: Remove pork belly and keep hot. Strain liquid into a saucepan and place over medium heat. Combine cornstarch and ½ cup water; add to liquid and cook until thickened.
STEP 6: Pour sauce onto pork belly and serve.
Huli Huli Chicken
½ cup ginger root, peeled and minced 1 ½ tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste)
2 teaspoons fresh, peeled garlic cloves, minced 1 ¾ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar 1 ¼ teaspoons Sherry vinegar
1/3 cup ketchup 1 ¾ teaspoons sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
STEP1: Combine all ingredients except chicken; mix well. Add ½ of the sauce to chicken and toss to coat. Refrigerate overnight. Reserve other ½ of sauce in refrigerator.
STEP 2: Preheat grill.
STEP 3: Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade.
STEP 4: Cook chicken on grill, basting frequently with reserved sauce until proper internal temperature is reached.
Kimchi Fried Rice
1 cup sushi rice 2 tablespoons fresh, peeled garlic cloves, minced
1 cup water ¼ cup ginger root, peeled and minced
1 ¼ cups kimchi (premade) 1 bunch green onions
2 shell eggs ½ cup yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce ¼ cup water
3 tablespoons salted butter 1 tablespoon sesame oil
6 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
*Fried rice is best made with cooled rice so it doesn’t stick together.
STEP 1: Rinse rice in a bowl until the water runs clear. Strain and let drain for 30 minutes.
STEP 2: Place rice and 1 cup water in a pot. Cover and bring to a simmer.
STEP 3: Reduce heat to low and let cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Refrigerate overnight.
STEP 1: Drain and rough chop kimchi.
STEP 2: Shell and whisk eggs.
STEP 3: Trim and thinly slice green onions.
STEP 4: In wok or pan, heat 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add rice and yellow onion; stir-fry until lightly charred and heated. Remove from heat and place in bowl; keep warm.
STEP 5: In a skillet, heat remaining vegetable oil and sesame oil. Stir-fry ginger, garlic, and ½ green onions until fragrant.
STEP 6: Add kimchi, butter, salt, and white pepper. Continue to cook until kimchi takes on some color.
STEP 7: Add cooked rice, soy sauce, and water. Mix well and continue to cook until heated through.
STEP 8: Make a well in middle of vegetable mixture once hot and add eggs into well. Fold rice into center, cooking the eggs through.
STEP 9: Place in serving dish; top with shaved jalapeño and remaining green onion.
Try these additional recipes: