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East West Eats & Charles Phan interview

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The Bay Area is blessed with a fantastic variety of wonderful Asian food. With each wave of immigrants unfamiliar cuisines have made their way into our delicious community and become old friends. Some of the best restaurants and chefs in the Bay Area are cooking Asian food and some of them are coming together for the East West Eats dinner.

I talked with Charles Phan of Slanted Door to get his thoughts about local Asian food and out what it's like to participate in this dinner along with chefs Robert Lam of Butterfly, Hung Le of Three Seasons, Peter Pahk of Silverado, Kirk Webber of Cafe Kati, Anjan and Emily Mitra of Dosa, Mutsumi Takhara of Slanted Door and Chris Yeo of Straits. The East West Eats dinner takes place June 1st, register to attend by May 25th, here.

What trends are you seeing in Asian food in the Bay Area?
Fusion has come and gone. I never really agreed with that anyway but I see more and more specialization. In the Chinese community people are doing more regional cuisines and are interested in Shanghai or Szechuan food etc. The whole school of regional cuisine is going to continue to grow--it's no different than like what A16 is doing making Neapolitan style food.

At my restaurant I'm taking old ideas and building them with local ingredients and sensibility--like cooking beef medium rare, same methodology same recipe but not medium well or using local vegetables but stir frying them the same way you would in Vietnam. Also using oysters and raw fish a Vietnamese style here we use fish sauce shallot and lime instead the Japanese style with wasabi.

What's been the response to the cooking kits sold at Out the Door?
It's been great. The response has been phenomenal. We sold out super fast on Valentine's day. I was surprised! A lot of people had the idea to create a romantic dinner at home. People are using them in different ways than we expected such as for parties, romantic meals etc.

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We've held back but when we move to a central kitchen commissary there will be more choices. Maybe even "vlogs" video clips to learn how to cook with fresh ingredients all packed fresh daily.

Are Western palettes adapting to Vietnamese cuisine or is Vietnamese cuisine adapting to Western palettes?
Combination of both. I'm surprised everyday at what people buy at the restaurant. At the same time a classic dish from Vietnam is never sold here, like Hainan chicken never sells, and I've tried a dozen times. Eating boiled chicken just won't catch on. But I'm doing a new dumpling that texturally is very unique and it is selling. People's tastes are changing rapidly, I sell lots of whole fish and people used to send it back everyday to have the head removed. I used to have fish returned every day now I haven't had one returned in over a year.

What will the food be like at the East West Eats dinner?
The food is always better at these events than a sit down meal because it's prepared right there. Everybody is doing different things, everybody will showcase their speciality. It's a way for people to get to know the chefs. It's a good way to sample. You get to see several restaurants at one time.

What's it like working with the other chefs at an event like this?
I do this all the time, you learn something new since most of us don't do catering, it's a challenge. I get to see my colleagues and give back to community. It's fun, mostly I wouldn't see these chefs except at these events.

Want to know more about the East West Eats event? Head over to Cooking with Amy.

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