A special May edition of TSR highlights Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Welcome to a super super special edition of The Sunday Roast! I am so proud of this edition and eternally thankful that the DC super star subject took time to be featured. I’m trying out a different format below, so hopefully you enjoy it, and make sure to send me any feedback!
This month: As some of you already know, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. And at a time when violence against Asian Americans is at a terrifying high, it’s important to reflect on how we can uplift, support and protect AAPI voices from any hatred. I’ve seen lots of initiatives launch to respond to the rise in hate crimes, especially here in D.C. One of the more prominent initiatives was full of local food celebrities who took their talents and created a delicious event that then launched into a successful national campaign. You may already know what I’m talking about: Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate. Well, I finally grabbed a ticket to the second-to-last dinner and snagged some of the founder’s time. So keep scrolling to read more about how food was used for good.
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You may not know this about the three time James Beard nominee and Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chef,” but Kevin Tien actually got his start in the corporate world after getting his Master’s in Statistical Analysis and Business Analytics. However, his love of food eventually trumped any passion for business and he decided to join the culinary world in 2009. He originally hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, so he worked in some restaurants around the state, then in Texas and D.C., before finally opening his own restaurant: Himitsu, which artfully combined Vietnamese, Japanese, Latin American and Southern cuisine. Himitsu earned loads of acclaims, and then three years later, Tien closed up shop to focus on two new ventures: communal venue Emilie’s and chicken sandwich hotspot Hot Lola’s.
And of course, both have earned all sorts of awards and been named “must try” places. Then, last year, some of the top food news was that Tien was leaving Emilies and opening up a new joint to top even his past accolades. In the fall, after a pandemic full of ups and downs, Tien opened up a modern dining room featuring a similarly modern take on Vietnamese cuisine at the InterContinental hotel on The Wharf, which was formerly occupied by the award-winning Kith/Kin.
In the short time that it’s been open, Moon Rabbit has been one of the most popular dining spots in D.C. The 50-seat restaurant’s website says the food: “evokes memory, honors history, references globally inspired techniques and spotlights reinterpreted takes on regional Vietnamese dishes to the vibrant waterfront dining scene. Tien’s menu is intended to be a love-letter to his heritage as a first generation Asian-American, and to showcase dishes that tell his personal story, through an elevated and innovative lens.” It’s also now become the pick-up spot for the Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate! So now, if you’re keeping score, he’s a top-rated chef that has worked at several restaurants, launched and headed a nationwide successful charity, and stars in the latest Food Network Discovery Plus TV show: Chopped Next Generation. Whew.
Discover Kevin’s Instagram.
Discover his restaurant’s Instagram and website.
A Q&A with the founder of Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate.
I know you’ve said that the recent rise in violence towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially the shootings in Georgia, played a big role in why you and Tim launched this initiative, but I was wondering, what was the thought process behind using food and your cooking skills for a good cause, or that particular cause?
For Tim and I, we wanted to make a difference and the best way we knew how was through our best skill set, which is cooking. For most people, their fist introduction to someone else’s culture is through food, so we wanted to make that connection.
What about the format/experience you chose — what was your reasoning behind a five-course to-go meal set at that price point?
We chose to do our dinner series to go because it was already what all chefs were used to during the pandemic. You get to have this amazing 5 course meal for two people for the price of $150, which is a great deal, because if you went to the majority of the chefs restaurants, a dinner for two at the end would run about that much.
When it comes to the menus, do you or anyone else curate them to an extent to make sure dishes go together or do the chefs have free rein? When is the menu typically decided by?
We gave the chefs free rein for them to make their own food. Each chef has such a unique story to tell and we wanted them to be able to tell it through their food. And the menu was normally decided at least a week prior to each dinner.
Most menus have a mix of several different cuisines, so similar to the last question, do you try to feature certain types of cuisines on each menu, such as Asian cuisines?
We wanted a balance of meals for each week, but mostly we wanted to make sure the other chefs/restaurants had availability to be a part of Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate. Everyone who participated is so amazing, so it wouldn’t have mattered who was cooking each week as it was all not to be missed!
How did you initially partner with Tim and the other high-profile chefs included in your first dinner, including Erik Bruner Yang, Peter Chang and Yuan Tang? And making that first leap to schedule more dinners past just a one-time occurrence, how did you approach who to reach out to donate their time and skills? Were they old coworkers, friends, other chefs you admire, etc.? It seems a lot of well-loved restaurants in DC are participating and that to an extent that may be driving people to buy tickets.
The first dinner was a call from our friend Kyley who connected the first 5 chefs for the initial dinner. From there, I wanted to do more and just started calling and messaging every chef I knew personally in DC. Our culinary community is very close knit, so reaching out to friends and colleagues was very important to continue raising awareness.
Has there been a trend on the reason why DC chefs have decided to sign up, like to support the cause, use their skills, etc.?
DC chefs have always been so generous with their time & resources and helping everyone when they can. We are here to feed people, and are here to help our communities in any way possible as well.
Will you or Tim Ma cook for one of the dinners again or are both you now settled more into an administrative role?
Tim and I still do both, we currently have a very small team, so we do everything from cooking dinners, to speaking on panels, to printing menus and everything in between. But our team consists of 8 people who help do this in other cities and the many volunteers and partners each week who really make this happen.
I see you’ve now expanded to NYC, Detroit and San Francisco. Are there any other cities on the horizon that you hope to expand to? Are you still managing this endeavor, and how do you envision it to grow?
Our to go series is ending this month, but we are working on a lot of new events and activities through the end of the year. Our next events are going to be in LA and Houston. We want to make sure we are continuing this work past the month of May and to always be constantly working towards a better future.
What drove you to partner with/raise funds for RISE and Stop AAPI Hate?
RISE and Stop AAPI Hate are just a couple of the organizations we are working with. Each city we are working with local organizations as well, for example, in NYC we are working with APEX for Youth and Hearts of Dinner. We wanted to be able to help on all levels locally and nationally.
As for the pick-up aspect, does that raise any challenges or limitations for what you can feature in the menus? Do you ever envision switching these to in-person dinners or doing it as a one-time event, or something along those lines?
We haven’t had any challenges so far and the pick ups have been really seamless. We are hoping to do a few in-person events later on this year.
What’s it been like for you starting a program in DC that has expanded to a national one, getting loads of national attention? How has it felt with the media appearances and spreading awareness?
Honestly it’s been amazing to receive so much support from everyone, our goal is to raise awareness and funds and we have done both. We have to set the intention and we have been focusing on the educational component as well. To be able to create change, you have to know the history of AAPI hate and then we can move forward with change.
Explore my dinner.
Asparagus, mushroom ragout + spring onion from Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster
Steamed salmon, ginger, pea shoots, black sesame sauce + jasmine rice from Andrew Skala of Cut by Wolfgang Puck
Otak Otak, or grilled fish cake wrapped in banana leaf, from James Wozniuk of Makan
Cucumber fattoush, smoked feta, pear + crunchy pita from Michael Rafidi of Albi
Matcha green tea ice cream by Victoria Lai of Ice Cream Jubilee
Thai tea ice cream from Victoria Lai of Ice Cream Jubilee
Looking for a ticket to the last dinner?
DON’T FORGET! It’s your last call to experience this amazing dinner from local celebrity chefs for a great cause. Each ticket feeds two people, and pick-up is between 5-6:30 p.m. at Moon Rabbit.
Here’s the menu for May 30:
Kwang Kim of SHŌTŌ
chopped cured Atlantic Salmon with shallots, chives, serrano peppers, chili mayo and micro cress, miso brioche bun
Bradley Marlatt of Moon Rabbit
5 spice porchetta, ramp relish and a compressed apple salad
Jong Son of Tiger Fork
Mian Bao Xia (shrimp toast) with fermented chili aioli
Amy Brandwein of Centrolina
Crab crepe cake, frisée ramp salad
Caitlyn Dysart of Piccolina
Coconut Rum Baba
rum-soaked savarin, coconut cream, toasted almonds, cherry compote