45 DC Chefs Assemble to Fight Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
A weekly five-course dinner series will support Stop AAPI Hate
Since the coronavirus pandemic started last year, many Asian Americans have felt uneasy while out in public. Even for those who were born in this country, and have lived here our entire lives, we knew to be cautious while dining, traveling or even walking through a city during these past 12 rough months.
Kevin Tien, the owner and executive chef of modern French-Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit, has felt a particular fear using chopsticks in front of strangers.
“Maybe it’s in my mind, or maybe it’s not, but I can’t help how I feel while I’m out in public — afraid to accidentally cough,” Tien says. “When I’m traveling I’m worried, like, “Can I use chopsticks in public? Will people think using chopsticks is too Asian?’ Why the hell do I need to be afraid to use an eating tool that I’ve been using my whole life, all of a sudden?”
Unfortunately, there is good reason for that concern. Social justice organization Stop AAPI Hate, which began tracking violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on March 19 last year, has reported a staggering 3,795 incidents over the course of a year. The group’s latest report adds another 503 anti-Asian hate incidents between January 1st and February 28th of this year.
Tien says he has chef friends in Los Angeles who have been verbally and physically assaulted; when he hears stories of attacks against the elderly, he says he can’t help but think how his grandmother could have been a victim.
Asian-owned restaurants across the country have also seen a major increase in things like vandalism and theft, from recent reports of racist graffiti and death threats in Texas to four Asian-owned businesses in Maryland getting looted and vandalized at the start of Lunar New Year. Asian restaurants have also struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, as misinformation drove away many customers.
Stepping up to help
About a month ago, a group of AAPI chefs including Tien,Tim Ma, Erik Bruner-Yang, and others rallied to put together a pick-up dinner benefitting Stop AAPI Hate. Inspired, Tien and his fellow chefs decided to continue that work.
Working with his fellow chefs from around the DC area, Tien envisioned a much larger series of dinners, to benefit the same organization. Luckily, he says, folks were happy to help. A common theme amongst conversations with DC chefs is the unique bond felt within the DC culinary community, as restaurant and bar owners are typically inclined to help one another as soon as the bat signal is sent out.
So, on March 25, the weekly Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate dinner series will officially commence, with five chefs each lending one dish to a five-course, take-home meal. Their first meal of the series has already sold out, so patrons looking to participate should keep an eye on their Tock page and book as soon as possible.
Each meal is designed for two and costs $150, most of which will be donated.
If able to nab a spot, diners can expect dishes from some of the most esteemed Asian chefs in the city, like Seng Luangrath of Thip Khao, Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca of Pogiboy, Henji Cheung of Queen’s English, Patrice Cleary of Purple Patch and Jong Son of Tiger Fork. Also on the menu will be dishes from non-Asian allies such as Elias Taddesse of Melange, Johnny Spero of Reverie, Amy Brandwein of Centrolina and Michael Rafidi of Albi.
Tien says he’s now working with chefs and local organizations in other cities around the country as well, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, to see if the dinner series can be expanded beyond the borders of the District.
Contributing your voice
Participating chef Tim Ma of Lucky Danger told InsideHook that even as a man of Asian descent, he was confused at first where to donate or how exactly to support the cause of preventing hate crimes against AAPI people.
“I think it’s good to have a mechanism like this where there’s a function to raise money, and then you know those funds are going to an organization that will actually use that money for good,” says Ma. “That’s why I participated — sometimes it just takes somebody to coalesce these things and put them together and then you just kind of jump on for the ride.”
Both Ma and Tien are also hyper aware of the high price point for the dinner, and that there is a limited number of meals available. They urge supporters of Stop AAPI Hate to share their concerns and findings on social media, and to keep those around them informed on developing issues.
“José [Andrés] always talks about the power of food, and I am a true believer in that. I think food can unite, food can heal, and it can nourish. I think that if we can get people to come together over something terrible that’s been happening across like the US, it firstly spreads knowledge and awareness. So every person that picks up an order of food not only is supporting their local businesses, they’re also supporting an organization to stop these hate incidents across the US,” says Tien.
“It’s not often you get to have a meal from five very talented chefs and or restaurants in DC at one pickup point, and I mean, participating helps in every single way.”
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