My notes from Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant

Chow Making the Chinese American Restaurant at Museum of Food and Drink

Went to the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg last week! It was awesome!

The exhibit was called Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant.

At nearly every panel I felt a visceral connection. Here are some of the pieces that resonated, and why:

Chinese labor built the railroads

In my opinion, this sums up the Chinese mentality, pride, and way of life: “They did what no one else would do.”

 

Political cartoon of Chinese Exclusion Act at Museum of Food and Drink

More fun times.

 

The Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act at Museum of Food and Drink

“Congress repealed Expulsion to fight [Japanese wartime] propaganda, not to combat racism at home.”

 

Chop Suey at Museum of Food and Drink

When I was 14, I started working at my uncle’s Chinese restaurant. That’s where I first learned what chop suey was. I remember asking, “Who the hell eats this?” I never even heard about it before!

 

Chinese takeout menus at Museum of Food and Drink

Cool menus.

 

Johnny Kan Restauranteur at Museum of Food and Drink

I wish there was more about Johnny Kan. Think about it: Chinese are still considered foreigners in the 50s. Wounds from institutional racism still raw. And this young buck’s got the vision to change the perception of what American Chinese food can be, making his way in a world where no matter how hard he works he’ll always be seen as a foreigner. Baller.

 

Plate from Johnny Kan's restaurant at Museum of Food and Drink

“The restaurant featured white tablecloths and an open kitchen design. In view of the diners and behind plate glass, Chinese chefs tended woks in white chef uniforms.”

 

Johnny Kan's menu at at Museum of Food and DrinkJohnny Kan’s menu had detailed descriptions and origin stories of each dish, to educate diners of what they were eating. Dude was content marketing in the 50s.

 

Joyce Chen Restauranteur at Museum of Food and Drink

Joyce Chen opened her first restaurant in the states in 1958. She also had her own cooking show, a cookbook, and introduced the flat-bottomed wok. That was one #nastywoman.

 

Chinese Restaurant wok station at Museum of Food and Drink

When I was 22, I asked the head chef to teach me a bit about cooking on the line. In this diagram, everything’s clearly labeled. In reality, all these sauces and spices are in unlabeled tin cans and are indistinguishable from one another. I made an order of Beef and Broccoli and then he kicked me out.

 

Chinese sauces at Museum of Food and Drink

So interesting to see the relationships between the sauces.

 

7000 Takeout Boxes at Museum of Food and Drink

Mad takeout boxes!

If Chinese American food is of any interest to you, you’ll love this exhibit. You can knock it out in 30 minutes (I was there for over an hour). At the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg, open Fri-Sun until February 26, 2017.

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2 comments

  1. Rich

    Awesome post man. Great info & interesting “Godincidense”…
    Thx Chris

  2. Chris

    Thanks Richie! Really appreciate it.

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