Danny Bowien’s Post-Authentic Asian America

By Leland Tabares

In a recent interview, James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Danny Bowien admits that if he were to create authentic diasporic Asian food, he would be making “Hamburger Helper” and “buttery canned vegetables.”

A Korean adoptee of a white middle-class family who grew up in Oklahoma, Bowien shows the relationship between food and diasporic identity to be messy when it comes to authenticity. For instance, he never tasted Korean food until he left Oklahoma for San Francisco at the age of nineteen and never formally trained to cook Chinese food prior to opening his now famous Mission Chinese Food restaurant. Discourses on authenticity do not readily account for ethnic narratives like Bowien’s. Indeed, he considers himself “the least authentic chef.” Influenced by his unique background, Bowien sees the current culinary world as what he calls “post-authentic,” defined more by “credibility” than “heritage.”

Bowien’s notion of the post-authentic becomes legible through a recent collaboration with the Arizona Beverage Company. The New York-based company, known for their AriZona Iced Tea line and intentionally gaudy 1990s aesthetic, partnered with Bowien to create a special one-time menu using AriZona beverages as the primary ingredients. This brand deal was organized in 2019 as a pop-up event held at the Brooklyn outfit of Mission Chinese Food.

Image Credit: AriZona Iced Tea

The “Great Buy” menu—a reference to AriZona’s “Great Buy! 99 Cents” tagline—featured two entrées, a dessert, and a cocktail. They included, respectively: Mucho Mango Fried Rice, Smoked Green Tea Chicken Noodles, Grapeade Ambrosia, and Green Tea Ginsenger. The 99-cent price point for the dessert paid homage to the tall 99-cent AriZona Iced Tea cans popularized in the 1990s and early-2000s.

Image Credit: AriZona Iced Tea

To many in the culinary establishment, the notion that a chef would monetize his menu is antithetical to the profession’s values around creative freedom. Celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio, Michael Symon, and Marco Pierre White have partnered with brands like Coke, Lay’s, and Knorr. But none had brought a sponsored product into their restaurants. Famed food writer Pete Wells of The New York Times equated the event to Bowien selling a brand “access to [diners’] heads.” Bobby Flay publicly condemned Bowien, saying that he would “never take a product and force it into [his] menu” because such an act desecrates the “sacred” nature of a chef’s menu.[i] The backlash to Bowien’s collaboration would appear to have damaged his credibility, a devastating irony for a chef who places credibility at the forefront of the post-authentic. But Bowien remains as popular as ever.

What the collaboration makes visible has less to do with Bowien and more to do with the culinary establishment. It reveals how industry norms gatekeep minoritized chefs who prepare nontraditional foods, demonstrating how access to credibility is unequally distributed. As I have written elsewhere, Bowien represents an emerging generation of misfit chefs whose nontraditional approaches to professionalism literally and symbolically mis-fit within the industry. Acts of mis-fitting expose how industry norms render some chefs unfit for professional belonging. Professional norms thus play direct roles in the formation and regulation of culinary authenticity and identity. Bowien realizes as much when, in response to the criticism, he explains, “I believe in breaking the system that says a certain type of cuisine or price point should be frowned on.”

Bowien’s notion of the post-authentic then does not do away with identity, as if identity no longer matters. In fact, he indicates that identity is essential to the post-authentic: “Identity definitely interests me. I feel like today it’s all about identity.” Rather than using terms like inauthentic or nonauthentic, terms that might signal a refusal or avoidance of engaging with authenticity, Bowien employs post-authentic to highlight the important (and often damaging) ways that the restaurant industry’s professional norms—norms that place value in Western Anglo-European food traditions—not only contribute to the production of authenticity but also commodify and exploit minoritized cultures in the process.

By monetizing his menu, Bowien asserts control over the means of commodifying his Asian Americanness. In the fashion world, streetwear culture popularized brand collaborations between industry elites and smaller independent businesses. Bowien draws inspiration from these collaborations because they challenge the ideologies that separate so-called high and low culture. “Look at fashion,” Bowien explains, “how brands are doing collaborations with other brands. There’s this old guard that says you have to be haute couture or you’re not one of us: you have to do your haute couture first, then you can do your street-wear line. I’ve played that game [in the food world] and tried to do what made everyone else happy, but I wasn’t happy.”[ii]

Bowien’s collaboration with AriZona turns the tables back on the culinary establishment to insist that a menu composed of mass-produced commodities and branded content not only emblematizes an authentic contemporary American dining experience, but also illustrates the degree to which culture industries—from fine dining to advertising—produce and regulate notions of authenticity. For Bowien, the post-authentic is a critical accounting of these processes of cultural regulation by capitalist industries. Rather than refuse to participate, Bowien leans in to assert his own agency and individualism amid the system: “I believe that what I’m doing is good. I want to be myself.”[iii]


References:

[i] Qtd. in Wells, Pete. “This Menu Is Brought to You by Arizona Iced Tea,” 7 May 2019.

[ii] Qtd. in Birdsall, John. “Chef Danny Bowien doesn’t care that you have a problem with his Arizona Iced Tea deal,” 10 May 2019.

[iii] Ibid., Birdsall.

Roman Recipes and the Senses

By Erica Rowan

We do not have many recipes from the ancient world and certainly none presented in the user-friendly format found in today’s cookbooks with precise measurements, cooking times and images of the finished product. Some ancient recipes are found at the end of agrarian handbooks, like those produced by Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) (for more see Catherine Draycott’s post https://recipes.hypotheses.org/5005), while others are described as part of a philosophical dinner party (Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae). The most famous recipe book, and the one which most reconstructed Roman recipes are based, is Apicius’ De re coquinaria or On the subject of cooking. Compiled sometime during the 4th century AD and named after an infamous 1st century AD cook, it contains recipes for vegetables, pulses, meat, seafood and game. Ingredients are listed in the text along with rough instructions for the preparation and cooking of the dish (think instructions for the technical challenge in The Great British Bake Off). The lack of ingredient quantities suggests that it functioned as part coffee table book and part chef’s manual, whereby the cook already had a good understanding of ingredient combinations and quantities. In other words, it was not for the beginner home cook.

Despite a lack of precision and clarity in these surviving recipes, it is possible to gain a detailed understanding of the sensory experience involved in the preparation and consumption of these dishes. This is due to the survival of several pieces of Roman kitchen equipment and at times, the food remains themselves. At sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum (Italy), which were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, we not only have cooking pots, plates and serving dishes, but also the remains of the kitchens and dining rooms where the food was prepared and eaten.

So what was it like to make and eat Roman food? Let’s look at one of Apicius’ recipes in detail.

Lentils with mussels: take a clean pan, (put the lentils in and cook them). Put in a mortar pepper, cumin, coriander seed, mint, rue, pennyroyal, and pound them. Pour on vinegar, add honey, liquamen, and defrutum, flavour with vinegar. Empty the mortar into the pan. Pound cooked mussels, put them in and bring to heat; when it is simmering well, thicken. Pour green oil over it in the serving dish.

[Apicius, On the subject of cooking, 5.2.1, from Grocock and Grainger 2006: 209]

The first thing you may notice about this dish is the vast number of flavours and seasonings involved. In addition to the various herbs, the recipe also calls for liquamen, a fermented fish sauce similar to the Thai fish sauce Nam Pla, and defrutum, concentrated grape syrup made from boiled down grape juice. Roman dishes are notorious for their seemingly strange and startling mix of flavours. However, before we get to the taste, let’s start with sensory experience of preparing this dish.

Firstly, let’s assume that this dish is being prepared for a dinner party in a wealthy Roman household. If you were the one making the food you would have been a slave, working in a hot, small, smoky kitchen. Roman kitchens are readily identifiable by their large ceramic hearths. Cooking took place on the hearth; the space beneath is just for the storage of fuel, usually charcoal or wood. The lack of chimneys in Roman kitchens means that there was poor ventilation and the smell of the cooking food would have been quite strong. The small size of most kitchens, even in larger houses, meant that the room would have been hot, even in the winter.

At least two pieces of cooking equipment are required to make this recipe, a pan and a mortar. The mortar would have been a mortarium (image), a large shallow ceramic bowl with stone inclusions in the bottom to provide a rough grating surface. All the seasonings would have been ground by hand using a mortarium and wooden pestle. The pan (perhaps made of bronze) would have been placed on a metal or ceramic tripod with charcoal underneath. The varying materials of the mortarium, pestle and pan would have made the tactile experience quite dynamic. Once the dish was finished, depending upon the wealth of your owners, you would have poured the finished product onto a ceramic, bronze or silver platter. You’d then promptly move on to preparing another dish as Roman dinners usually consisted of several courses.

Now let’s shift gears and say you’re a guest at the dinner party and you have the opportunity to taste and smell this dish. The combination of flavours in this recipe, and particularly the mixture of the liquamen, defrutum, honey and vinegar would have given it a sweet and salty taste. In my experience, having made several Roman dishes, the flavour combination is strange but not jarring or unpleasant. Roman food tasted much more like modern Thai or Chinese cuisine than modern Italian with its frequent combination of sweet, sour, and salty. The black pepper in the dish, imported from India, would have provided a hint of wealth and exoticism as it was by far one of the most expensive and foreign seasonings you could use at this time. If you had grown up consuming a Roman diet then this dish would have smelled and tasted very normal to you. The herbs, in addition to appearing in numerous other Apician recipes, are also frequently mentioned by other ancient authors, suggesting that they formed an important part of the Roman diet. This importance is confirmed by the recovery of many of the herbs, and in particular coriander, at sites throughout the Roman Empire.

The military and merchants carried and imported these herbs to all the corners of the Empire, perhaps to evoke a taste of home. Some individuals native to the northern provinces, such as Gaul and Britain, adopted these seasonings into their local cuisines. In addition to probably enjoying the taste, they used them to display their wealth or allegiance to Rome.

In sum, there is much sensory information that can be gleaned from Roman recipes and the archaeological remains of food preparation and consumption. What is perhaps most striking is the vastly different interactions and experiences of those in the kitchen compared to those in the dining room!

Select bibliography

Grocock, C. W. and Grainger, S. 2006. Apicius: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and an English Translation of the Latin Recipe Text Apicius. Totnes: Prospect.

Livarda, A. 2011. ‘Spicing up life in northwestern Europe: exotic food plant imports in the Roman and medieval world.’ Veg Hist Archaeobot, 20(2): 143-164.

Livarda, A., 2018. Tastes in the Roman provinces: an archaeobotanical approach to socio-cultural change. In: K.C. Rudolph, ed. Taste and the Ancient Senses. London: Routledge. pp. 179-196.

Rowan, E., 2017. Bioarchaeological preservation and non-elite diet in the Bay of Naples: An analysis of the food remains from the Cardo V sewer at the Roman site of Herculaneum. Environmental Archaeology, 22(3), pp.318-336.

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Erica Rowan is a lecturer in Classical Archaeology at Royal Holloway, University of London. As a Roman archaeologist with a specialization in archaeobotany, her research focuses on Roman diet and consumption practices. She uses literary, archaeological, and archaeobotanical evidence to explore the way cultural tensions within Roman society were expressed, embedded, and resolved through the prevailing food culture.

 

Records and Reminiscences: Some Interesting Aspects of Chiquart’s Du fait de cuisine (1420)

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Sion/Sitten, Médiathèque Valais, S 103: Maître Chiquart, Du fait de cuisine, 1420, fol. 113r (http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/mvs/cuisine).

With the holiday season behind me, I am already reminiscing about my family’s recent celebrations and thinking ahead to next year. I have gathered recipes I would like to try next year, made notes about recipes that worked (and those that didn’t), and listed the menus of the many meals my husband and I hosted for friends and family. When I starting thinking about appropriate topics for a Recipes Project post, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to consider the 1420 Savoyard cookbook, Du fait de cuisine. In it, Master Chiquart Amiczo, the chef of Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, dictates seventy-eight recipes to a scribe, provides an extensive description of how to acquire food and provisions for days of feasting, and records a menu of one particular feast. In October 1403 Chiquart prepared two days of lavish feasts in honor of Mary of Burgundy. Although Amadeus VIII and Mary of Burgundy had been contracted in marriage since 1393, due to a number of political complications the bride had not left her Burgundian home. The feast celebrated her arrival at the Savoy court when she would join Amadeus VIII’s household as his wife.[1] Chiquart’s menu and notes on preparing for a feast describe a much grander event than any I might prepare during the holidays, but the intention is the same: describing a successful event so that one might remember it or even replicate it.

Despite being a very accessible medieval cookbook, Du fait de cuisine has had relatively little scholarly attention. This cookery exists in a single manuscript, held at the Médiathèque Valais in Sion, Switzerland (MS Supersaxo 103). While the manuscript has been digitized, Terence Scully has been the only scholar to devote significant attention to the book, producing a French edition and two English editions.[2] Du fait de cuisine is particularly interesting when considered among the larger corpus of contemporary cookbooks. While there are many similarities among the recipes, the surrounding text is remarkably different from most contemporary Continental and English cookbooks.

First among these differences is the amount of text and detail provided to the appointment of a kitchen for a feast. Folios 12r to 18v are devoted to this topic; Chiquart describes the necessary kitchen staff, how to order food from various purveyors, how much food to order, the vessels and equipment necessary for cooking, and the proper serving dishes. This section seems to be an attempt at describing the art of the kitchen, part of the aim of Du fait de cuisine.[3] The only other medieval cookery with such an extensive section on these aspects of the cooking process is Le Ménagier de Paris, produced in 1390s Paris for a wealthy administrative, but not noble, household. [For  more on the Ménagier de Paris, see my previous Recipes Project post on “A November Feast.”]

 Du fait de cuisine stands apart from contemporary texts in the level of detail included in the recipes. Many fit on a single folio, but others span up to eight folios. Other cookbooks describing lavish entremets, like the Viandier of Taillevent pale in comparison to the description of the final products. Chiquart’s creations of performative, edible art come alive on the page; even without illustrations, it is easy to imagine his castle with four lighted towers defended by various soldiers. Characters breathing fire are part of the creation, as well as a Fountain of Love spouting rosewater and mulled wine. Roasted and redressed peacocks and hedgehogs also make an appearance. As if this weren’t enough, Chiquart’s glorious entremets includes a faux sea filled with ships attacking the aforementioned castle. The entremet is naturally accompanied by a small group of musicians.[4] Each aspect is described in such a manner that it can be replicated, provided that the cook has some knowledge of creating pastry and sugar and meat pastes which constituted the basis of construction.

Another difference is a variety of brief texts that Chiquart includes after the culinary recipes. This includes a verse the Chiquart composed to honor Amadeus VIII and his family on fols. 107v to 109r and several other types of brief writings on the final nine folios. These are mainly non-culinary writings, including a verse against the plague, a note on Virgil’s Georgics, and several aphorisms. It is not unusual to find such an array of writings alongside cookery books in late medieval manuscripts, especially in English manuscripts. Du fait de cuisine is unique in its inclusion of these items within the cookbook itself, seemingly at the request of the author, self-described as lacking learning and wit (“n’ay grand science ne sens”).[5] I find these elements one of the most intriguing of the cookery and deserving of much more exploration.

The combined coat of arms of Amadeus VIII and Mary of Burgundy. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 18982, fol. 9v. (http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8528579f/f20.item.zoom)

A final difference is the menu of the feast in honor of Mary of Burgundy.[6] Many medieval cookbooks provide generic menu suggestions or menus for unspecified events, and many non-culinary records provide menus for historically important feasts. However, relatively few cookbooks include menus for actual events.[7] Amadeus VIII and Mary of Burgundy’s wedding feast was certainly a magnificent affair and a significant event in the House of Savoy. Mary was the eighth child of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and Margaret III. Philip the Bold had arranged Mary’s marriage to solidify a political alliance to Savoy in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War. The bride was only seven when her marriage was contracted; she would not arrive at the Savoy court for another ten years. While the alliance was only initially important to the House of Burgundy, the Savoy court benefitted greatly from this alliance. Amadeus VIII needed to welcome his bride to Savoy with all the opulence he could muster. His chef was tasked with preparing two days of lavish feasting to accomplish the goals of proving his wealth and status to his new bride and her family.

The fact that Chiquart recorded an account of the wedding feast seventeen years after the event is quite interesting; this is the only specific event the author describes. While Chiquart was evidently asked by Amadeus VIII to write the cookbook as a compendium of culinary knowledge, Chiquart does not provide any reason for recording the wedding events at the end of the cookbook.[8] The menu is also written after what seems to be the original ending, the poem glorifying and thanking Chiquart’s employing household. I wonder if it was associated with the birth of Amadeus and Mary’s ninth and final child in 1420; perhaps the pregnancy or birth was particularly difficult, and Chiquart attempted to garner favor with his lord by crafting a glorious recollection of Mary’s arrival in Savoy after his original culinary text was complete. However, my guess is merely that, as the text does not indicate a specific intent.

 Du fait de cuisine is an imaginative and detailed record of culinary information. There is much to explore in its similarities to and differences from other contemporary texts. For the moment, however, I take heart that some of my post-holiday recordkeeping habits are a bit like Master Chiquart’s.

NOTES

[1] Richard Vaughan, Philip the Bold: The Formation of the Burgundian State (Reprint, Boydell Press, 2002), 89.

[2] Terence Scully, “Du fait de cuisine,” Vallesia 40 (1985): 103–231; Chiquart’s On Cookery: A Fifteenth-Century Savoyard Culinary Treatise (P. Lang, 1986); and Du fait de cuisine / On Cookery of Master Chiquart (1420): “Aucune science de l’art de cuysinerie et de cuisine” (ACMRS, 2010). Another French edition was also published: Florence Bouas and Frédéric Vivas, eds., Du fait de cuisine: Traité de gastronomie médiévale de Maître Chiquart (Actes Sud, 2008).

[3] Sion, Switzerland, Médiathèque Valais, MS Supersaxo 103, fol. 11r.

[4] S 103, fols. 30r–33r.

[5] S 103, fol. 108v.

[6] S 103, 111v–114v.

[7] A couple exceptions are the Ménagier de Paris (multiple manuscript copies) and London, British Library, MS Harley 279.

[8] S 103, fols. 11v–12r.

Cooking (Over an Open Fire) In Class

 By Ken Albala

Hearth Cooking.  Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.
Hearth Cooking. Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.

I often use recipes in various classes as primary documents, to examine social issues and gender roles, to explore the meaning of various ingredients and techniques and their movement around the globe, and to discuss anything the text might yield as a record of the past. Cooking with these recipes is a little more complicated. Apart from the lack of kitchens, my food history class is usually about 60 students, and feeding them is just impractical. But I still really want students to get a sense of what historic food tasted like, especially when cooked on an open fire using period implements. In graduate classes I have had students cook in groups at home and we connect via video conferencing so everyone at least gets to discuss the historic recipes as they cook them. It’s much more satisfying to bring a smaller class to my home so we can not only get our hands dirty before the hearth, but get a physical sense of what cooking was like in the past, and of course taste the food to get a direct idea of people’s taste preferences.

For one gathering of history majors a few years ago I chose to cook from the 16th century Livre fort excellent de cuysine, a cookbook I had recently translated with Tim Tomasik, but neither of us had tested most of the recipes. So there was not only an element of uncertainty, but even I could only guess how the recipes would taste in the end.

I had some students chop pork by hand and stuff intestines to make cervelat sausages. Some used the wood-fired oven to bake, others cooked a rabbit with bacon at the hearth in a clay pipkin. I think the biggest hit was an opulent pie made with sole, rich with spices, dripping with butter and verjuice. There was also a “hochepot” stew made with chicken, dried fruit and a lot of sugar. A dish of frumenty, which is whole wheat berries and “crespes” (which are like funnel cakes) rounded out the menu. The only rule was to stick as closely as possible to the original early modern recipes, which thankfully didn’t include many measurements, so there was a good deal of leeway.

Clay Pipkin.  Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.
Clay Pipkin. Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.

Everything turned out to be not only good, but excellent, as I knew it would if we had stuck to the directions. More revealingly, dishes that the students fully expected to dislike were devoured. Flavors they thought would clash, like the sugar in the stew, turned out to be very appealing. The riot of spices reminded some of Indian food. Most importantly, rather than hearing a description of these flavor combinations, students got to experience them first-hand. It was much like hearing music played on period instruments or seeing a 500-year-old painting up close. History can and should be made palpable and cooking is one of the most thrilling ways it can be done, as long as you start with a lesson in fire safety!

Ken Albala teaches food history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton California and is Director of the Food Studies Masters Program in San Francisco.