A big crowd gathered last night at the Make-Out Room to celebrate Mission Street Food's forthcoming cookbook, "Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas From An Improbable Restaurant," published by McSweeney's new cookbook imprint.
Unfortunately, the cookbooks were tied up at customs and so no copies were to be had for the foodie groupies. But there was music, free beer, a short and funny presentation given by MSF duo Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz and Popeye's fried chicken -- lots of it. Apparently this chicken holds a soft spot in their hearts, especially Anthony's.
Anthony and Karen also took time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions via email about their new project.
1) You've had quite a journey in the past 3 years, from street food vendor, to Mission Burger, Commonwealth, Mission Chinese Food and now you're launching a cookbook. What was your initial inspiration for the cookbook?
Our editor, Chris Ying, suggested we write about Mission Street Food, because he was starting McSweeney’s food imprint. We hadn’t been planning to write a book—as you mention, the last few years have been a bit of a whirlwind for us—but actually, the process of writing has helped us make sense of everything that’s happened. The story of MSF’s evolution takes about as much space in our book as the recipes, because we wanted to show how the food came out of our peculiar circumstances as an ever-changing pop-up restaurant.
2) There are loads of Chinese cookbooks out there. What will folks come away with from the Mission Chinese Street Food's book that's unique?
In this book, we really focused on recipes from the Mission Street Food era, rather than Mission Chinese Food. The book’s cover is modeled on a classic American-Chinese restaurant placemat, because we wanted to reflect the way that MSF was contained within Lung Shan, though our food was inspired by culinary traditions from around the world. The recipes in our book reflect that international approach to cooking, so you’ll find our version of Peking Duck juxtaposed with our version of a Nordic dessert, and we happily admit that neither is “authentic.”
3) How would you compare the collaborative cookbook writing process to your food ventures? Was it harder, easier, and/or gratifying in other ways?
Writing the book was probably a little bit easier than starting Mission Street Food, because the hours were more flexible. We worked very closely on the book, and literally passed the laptop back and forth between us as we talked. Working in a restaurant can be so ephemeral—if the food is good, then it disappears—so it’s nice to have something so solid that we can point to, and say “We made this!”
4) What's up next for Mission Chinese Food? Any plans to expand?
Hard to say. We’re definitely bursting the seams of our current arrangement, but our priority has always been to make food that’s really personal, so we don’t have any plans to expand right now.
5) The book party for your cookbook served up Popeye's fried chicken. What's the connection to Mission Street Food?
Well, there’s no connection between Popeye’s and Mission Street Food, but we do discuss how Popeye’s deserves culinary respect for their combination of deliciousness and low price—part of a general open-mindedness towards various foods.