Tag: NYU

An evening with the Kitchen Sisters

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 | All Things, Books, Events

With so many happenings around New York City on any given day, it’s good to have friends who will clue you into ones you would otherwise miss. Courtesy of a tip from JL (again!): “An Evening with the Kitchen Sisters” at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life, overlooking Washington Square Park.

Those who tune in regularly to NPR’s Morning Edition are probably already familiar with the duo of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. The two women, who first crossed paths while working on similar oral history projects in Santa Cruz, have been producing radio programs together since 1979. They are the renowned creators of the NPR’s series “Lost & Found Sound,” the Sonic Memorial Project, and “Hidden Kitchens”; their fascinating and provocative radio documentaries have earned them two Peabody Awards and a duPont-Columbia Award.

Most of tonight’s program was framed around the Kitchen Sisters’ past radio features, chronicling little told stories of American kitchen and food culture, past and present. The pair had an easy-going rapport with each other and with the audience (several members of whom were called upon to read from their book) — and much livelier than their Saturday Night Live counterparts.

Kitchen Sisters

Nelson and Silva shared many fascinating stories about food subcultures: a Kosher cafeteria in New York City’s diamond district, Christmas dinner at a nail salon in San Francisco where dozens of Vietnamese manicurists convene from around the city… the women provided context for the stories while sharing selected clips from their radio series as well as a few listener phone messages that inspired the topics. Among the projects were a few non-food-related stories, such as that of WHER, the first “all girl” radio network that broadcast out of Memphis, Tennessee for 17 years, beginning on October 29, 1955. With hushed awe in their voices they talked about their interviews with members of the Mohawk Indian tribe, working precariously high above the ground to build much of our city’s skyline.

Kitchen Sisters stories

Kitchen Sisters stories

I was struck by the Kitchen Sisters’ obvious passion for their work — how would I go about getting a job like this? — and the women’s affection for their subjects; at one point, over an audio excerpt of their “Milk Cow Blues” story about an Indiana farm community divided over the sale of raw milk, Nelson was moved to visible tears, despite admitting to having heard the clip dozens of times before. The piece offered a nice segue for the women to introduce from the audience food writer Frederick Kaufman who in November, 2004 wrote an article for The New Yorker entitled “Psst! Got Milk?” about his infiltration of a private raw-milk coven in Hell’s Kitchen. (Slightly off-topic, Kaufman — who also happens to be Nelson’s cousin — amused everyone with his musings on food porn conventions.)

Kitchen Sisters

Finally, there was the ultimate “hidden kitchen” story of Robert “King” Wilkerson, who spent 31 years in the Angola State Penitentiary for his involvement with the Black Panthers, 29 of those years in solitary confinement. During that time, Wilkerson developed a recipe for pralines, prepared over a contraband stove in his cell fashioned from cans and tissue paper. As a free man now, he sells his candy with much of the proceeds going towards helping his still-imprisoned cohorts fight for freedom. The Kitchen Sisters brought baskets of King’s “freelines” with them this night, which were distributed throughout the delighted audience for sampling. A sweet ending to a wonderful night of stories.

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Found in Translation

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

JL (who knows all about such things) had alerted us to this food event taking place at NYU’s Cantor Film Center tonight: Found In Translation: An Exploration Of How Asian Cuisines Become Part Of The American Culinary Landscape. The evening was billed as an examination of three Asian cuisines (Chinese, Indian, Filipino) and how they each have been “translated” into mainstream American culture. The sell-out event was co-sponsored by the university’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and the James Beard Foundation, with support from the Food & Wine program at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the Black Culinarian Alliance and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.

After a brief introduction by author and A/P/A Institute founding director John Kuo Wei Tchen, each of the three panelists gave a 15-20 minute presentation on her respective cuisine of expertise, ordered more or less from the most assimilated (Chinese) to the least (Filipino). Grace Young, author of The Breath of a Wok and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, gave a brief history of Chinese food in America, a subject no doubt of considerable interest to fellow HCHS alum Jennifer 8. Lee, who sat tapping away on her keyboard behind us, and whose book on a related subject is due out in March, 2008.

Next up: Maya Kaimal [Macmillan], author of Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India. Kaimal focused her presentation on how the majority of Indian restaurant offerings do not reflect Indian home cooking, and how despite a trend towards increasing sophistication, most menus continue to be rather limited in their regional representations. My impressions of Kaimal’s talk were marred somewhat by the blatant shilling of her eponymous line of jarred chutneys, pastes, glazes and sauces — available at Williams-Sonoma stores near you!

Rounding out the group: Amy Besa, owner of Cendrillon, a Filipino restaurant on Mercer Street, and co-author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens. Throughout the evening it was suggested that the cuisine of the 7100-island archipelago is poised to become the next Asian food to be “discovered.” Most of this self-selecting crowd, though, seemed already quite familiar with the unique joys of Sinigang, Adobo and Kare-Kare. (I was definitely among the novices, having only just made it out to Ihawan for the first time a few weeks ago.)

A/P/A panel

Afterwards, there was a brief panel discussion and a Q&A, moderated by food writer and personality Kathy Gunst. We slipped out after one particularly insufferable question from the audience. You know the type: a “question” that doesn’t seek actual information, but is rather a prelude to some overlong commentary whose sole purpose is to show off how very much the “asker” knows. Ugh. We exchanged a few eye rolls amongst ourselves, and telepathically communicated our mutual willingness to skip the post-event nibbles in favor of some heartier fare.

Moon House

After such a build-up, where else would we go but Chinatown? JL had suggested dinner at Moon House on Bayard, a restaurant I’d yet to hit despite near weekly visits to the neighborhood. Once again, we were happy to hand over the ordering reins to his capable hands. Despite the notable lack of green on the table — prompting an amused comment from our waitress — JL did a stellar job hooking us up with a rich representation of Shanghai specialties.

Fried Tiny Buns (Sheng Jian Bao) — similar to the soup-filled Pork Steamed Buns (Xiao Long Bao), a tray of which we also ordered, but with a doughy, pan-fried outer skin:

Moon House bao

… a wonderfully flavorful Salty Pork with Bamboo Shoot soup, somewhat misleadingly listed on the menu as a “casserole.” (Those are tofu skin knots breaking the surface.):

Moon House soup

… a Lion’s Head — so named for the plated appearance of these oversized pork meatballs ringed with a “mane” of braised bok choy:

Moon House lion’s head

… and a plate of Fresh Bacon with Preserved Vegetable — meltingly tender (read: fatty) and sweet:

Moon House pork belly

Is it any wonder that despite a tempting post-meal visit to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory next door — accept no substitutes! – I could not eat another bite?

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