Mu­seum cel­e­brates Chi­nese food — in ce­ramic

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By HONG XIAO in New York xi­ao­hong@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Sour, sweet, bit­ter and spicy as a Chi­nese id­iom re­fer not only to the del­i­cate bal­ance of fla­vors that de­fine Chi­nese cook­ing but also to the vi­cis­si­tudes of life.

For Chi­nese in Amer­ica, the four tastes still per­me­ate their cuisines, which have been car­ried on their im­mi­gra­tion jour­neys and in their life ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Food is at the heart of Chi­nese cul­ture, and in Amer­ica, the very def­i­ni­tion of Chi­nese food is con­stantly con­tested in home and restau­rant kitchens across the coun­try,” said Herb Tam, cu­ra­tor and direc­tor of ex­hi­bi­tions at the Mu­seum of Chi­nese in Amer­ica (MOCA) in New York.

Tam spoke at the press pre­view of MOCA’s fall 2016 ex­hi­bi­tion: Sour, Sweet, Bit­ter, Spicy: Sto­ries of Chi­nese Food and Iden­tity in Amer­ica.

He called the ex­hi­bi­tion “re­ally an elab­o­rate din­ner ta­ble con­ver­sa­tion with some of our most ex­cit­ing chefs…”

And while you won’t get to eat any de­lec­ta­ble dishes, you’ll be treated to a creative ce­ramic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the meals, pro­vided by artists Heidi Lau and Lu Zhang.

“Be­cause we couldn’t have food (for show­ing), I thought the clos­est thing that could be­come food for the ex­hi­bi­tion was ce­ram­ics. … And for the artist, they were able to in­ter­pret the re­gional cuisines, spe­cific chef styles of cook­ing and the land­scape of cer­tain re­gions,” Tam said.

Each chef and 18 dif­fer­ent re­gional cook­ing styles are rep­re­sented through the ce­ramic sculp­tures on a mas­sive din­ing ta­ble.

The ex­hi­bi­tion shows how Chi­nese food is in­ter­preted through the sto­ries of more than 30 Chi­nese and Asian-Amer­i­can chefs, some of whom are Miche­lin-rated and some who are known for their home cook­ing.

Pi­o­neer­ing chefs such as Ce­cilia Chi­ang, Ken Hom, Anita Lo, Ming Tsai and Martin Yan are fea­tured along with new restau­ra­teurs like Peter Chang, Vi­vian Ku and Danny Bowien; and long­time home-style cooks like Biy­ing Ni, Yvette Lee and Ho-chin Yang.

Another creative touch of the ex­hibit is that the menu at each place set­ting fea­tures a par­tic­i­pat­ing chef’s bio.

Over the past year, MOCA’s team of cu­ra­tors went to the chefs’ restau­rants and homes to gather their sto­ries, watch how they cooked, and of course, to taste their meals.

In the past year, Tam said he won­dered what would hap­pen if the chefs were all sit­ting to­gether at a din­ner ta­ble and hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion.

So in a 90-minute video in­stal­la­tion on four walls of the mu­seum’s main gallery, the var­i­ous chefs talk about where they grew up, what kind of food mem­o­ries they have; what their first taste of Amer­i­can food was like; the chal­lenges they faced and the mean­ing of au­then­tic­ity.

“What we want to high­light is, A, food is very per­sonal, and B, food is an oc­ca­sion for peo­ple to have con­ver­sa­tions,” Tam said.

“Chi­nese food is a cor­ner­stone of Amer­i­can cul­ture, and it has brought so many dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions and eth­nic­i­ties to­gether,” said MOCA Pres­i­dent Nancy Yao Maas­bach.

“Since the be­gin­ning of Chi­nese im­mi­gra­tion to the US, Chi­nese eater­ies have served as the foun­da­tion of a new life in a new place. By open­ing the door to their kitchens, Chi­nese peo­ple be­came in­te­gral parts of their com­mu­ni­ties,” she said. “This ground­break­ing ex­hibit presents all the com­plex­ity of Chi­nese cuisines and Chi­nese life in Amer­ica.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion will be open from Oct 6 through March 26, 2017.

HONG XIAO / CHINA DAILY

Me­dia mem­bers browse the fall 2016 ex­hi­bi­tion Sour, Sweet, Bit­ter, Spicy: Sto­ries of Chi­nese Food and Iden­tity in Amer­ica at the press pre­view at the Mu­seum of Chi­nese in Amer­ica in New York on Wed­nes­day.

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