How infusing culture into cuisine can be a ‘recipe for change’

Worlds collide as culinary masters Anita Lo and Jordan Andino share their Asian American experience over food. The chefs discuss how exploring culture through food can bring positive change.
13:43 | 05/21/22

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Transcript for How infusing culture into cuisine can be a ‘recipe for change’
- And Chinatown's new generation coming together in revolutionary ways to fight hate. Take a look. Here in the heart of New York City's Chinatown, there are signs that life is slowly getting back to normal. It's a welcome relief for many. The global pandemic wreaked havoc on this close-knit community, both financially and emotionally-- once thriving businesses now permanently closed and residents concerned and in some cases fearful for their safety-- - Asian lives matter. EVA PILGRIM: --as racist attacks continue to plague the Asian-American community here and across the country. - Grand opening. EVA PILGRIM: Pearl River Mart owner Joanne Kwong rallying to take care of her neighbors, especially the elderly. - We've done a couple of different initiatives that we're super proud of. One is called Light Up Chinatown, and we ended up having people adopt a lantern, and you can go visit your lantern in Chinatown. It basically brightens up the street for our elders walking the streets at night so that they feel a little bit safer. EVA PILGRIM: Established in 1971, Pearl River Mart became the first Chinese department store in the US. Today, a new location and a new chapter in a long history. - It's about bringing people together, providing a space. And for 50 years, because this is our 50th anniversary, Pearl River has been that community space for Chinatown and for the Chinatown community. We feel very proud to be Asian here, and we want to share kind of culture and space with each other, but also with the rest of the city. - We were visiting Pearl River Market around 10 years ago-- just the double whammy of COVID and with like a lot of what's going on in the city, so we thought it would be really good to support it. EVA PILGRIM: And here, 200 feet that will take you back in time-- Doyers Street, home to Wilson Tang's Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which just last year celebrated their 100-year anniversary. WILSON TANG: One of the major challenges during the pandemic was just keeping our staff safe. We had an interesting schedule. Like we were open a little later, would close a little earlier. The business was concerned with keeping our guys in a safe place. EVA PILGRIM: Wilson is heartened and inspired by his community's actions. - I am really proud of today's young adults who are mobilizing to help the elderly in need-- help sign up for vaccines or to help them with personal safety devices-- just advocating for them, because we're not here without them. - Being in lockdown for the first month, of course, there's a lot of anxiety, people with a lot of fear. But I think that's when ideas started bubbling within the community. How are we going to help the businesses that aren't surviving? EVA PILGRIM: Like Wilson, Cory Ng, too, was born and raised here, opening up Milk and Cream Cereal Bar four years ago. The shop then partnered with other businesses in the area. - When Chinatown really needed the help, when the elderly needed meals, when businesses needed fundraising, everyone came together. It's a lot of little micro organizations doing their individual parts with all the same mission. EVA PILGRIM: The new generation embodying the same resilience and fortitude exemplified by their ancestors, who first came to the US and called these streets home. - I would love for my son to take this over. That would be great just to keep the traditions alive. - Now to worlds and flavors colliding as two of New York's top culinary masters share not only some of their best dishes, but their uniquely personal Asian-American perspectives. Chinese-American Chef Anita Lo, once a Top Chef Masters competitor now traveling the world with Tour de Forks, and Jordan Andino, a Canadian-American chef with Filipino roots, frequent host of Late Night Eats for the ultimate foodie chat on how cooking brought them back to the heart of their identity and why cuisine is key to the celebration of culture. JORDAN ANDINO: In the past, I've done stuff-- Food Network, Cooking Channel. It was weird transitioning into more of the TV chef entertainment side, because growing up, me being a chef was all I ever wanted to be. That was my goal. Jean-Georges, Spago, and then also The French Laundry-- and knew what I wanted. I wanted a Michelin star. I am Filipino, and I'm using my Filipino both heritage as well as my restaurants to learn more about the Filipino culture. I was born in Toronto, Canada. I lived there for 10 years, then moved to LA, lived there for 10 years, and then now New York for 13 years. ANITA LO: Well, I just came from this food-obsessed family. Well, I was studying French literature at the time. The French culture is all about food actually, and I ended up in cooking school in Paris, and just fell in love, and opened my own place, which was Annisa. I had that for 17 years, and now I'm hosting culinary tours around the planet with a company called the Tour de Forks. It's like the best job ever. It's all upscale, food-focused. I teach a hands-on cooking class in each of these. - Anita. Hi, Jordan. - Good to meet you. - Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming. - Yeah, thanks for having me. - All right, you wanna come have a seat? - Yeah. - Thank you, please. How has your heritage and culture influenced the food that you or even ingredients and techniques that you explore and use in your own cooking? - Yeah, you know, when I grew up-- I grew up in Michigan. I grew up, and I'm much older than you obviously. - I don't know. Asian don't raisin, and you look pretty young, so I have to say. - Yeah, I don't actually have the perm yet. Yeah. - It's coming, like it's coming. - One day I'm just going to wake up, and I'm going to be like-- - Yeah. - So I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. It was like a harsh, predominantly white suburb. - (WHISPERING) Me, too. - Yeah. There was one other Asian in my pretty large school. There was one Black kid, and maybe a handful of kids from Arab descent. - OK. - And we were all ridiculed-- you know, taunted. It just wasn't cool to be anything different there. You couldn't be too smart. You couldn't be too stupid. The kids were just evil there. - Wow. - So I just grew up like not wanting to be Asian. I didn't want kids to come to my house, because sometimes it would be my mom's Chinese food, and everyone would be like, ew, what's that? - Like ridiculed. I would get chicken adobo. I'd get beef sinigang. - Lucky you. - I would get-- I would get [INAUDIBLE] which is like this fried, super smelly, literally-decaying fish. But once you fry it, it tastes amazing. - Yeah. - Incredible umami, really hits all of your senses-- your smell not so much, but everything else is delicious. And I would just made fun of, and people nonstop, just like you. They're like, what are you eating? Like you're-- like you're eating that? You're not buying like this cheeseburger or whatever? I'm like, A, no, we don't have money. B, like this food is delicious. But at the same time, it made me question it, too. And I started to believe, too, like you said, where maybe I don't want to be Asian. Maybe I'd rather be like everyone else. And it's similar to you. I was one of two Filipinos. My graduating class was 600 large, and it was like under 10 Asians in total. - Yeah. - Maybe two or three Black people-- like even in California, a couple of Mexicans. And I understand what you went through. - My stepfather was white. You know, my parents both worked, so I had all these different nannies. My nanny that was with me the longest was Hungarian-- white as well. - Yeah. - So culturally I was a mutt, you know, because I look this way, which made me even more want to shun my Asian-ness. But I think through-- I came back to it through food, honestly. When I was coming up in this industry, it was late '80s, early '90s, and like Asian, quote unquote, "fusion" was in thing at the time. And, you know, I was completely trained classic-- - French. - --French. But I just decided that I was going to start bringing in those ingredients. The kitchens are just more accepting. At Annisa, my signature dish ended up being influenced by my mom and my dad. It was a xiao long bao-- like a soup dumpling. - You know, being born in Toronto then growing up in LA and then living in New York, I never got exposed to legitimately the Asian culture and continents in terms of cuisine and ingredient, let alone Filipino. So what I found, especially through Flip Sigi that I'm so grateful for, is that I now am able to explore and learn more about being Filipino and what it means to be and honor the Filipino heritage each and every day. But at the same time, I also get-- I get a little grief for it, because Filipinos be like, you can't speak Tagalog. You don't know what these ingredients are. And I'm like I'm just learning, and I want you to teach me, you know? And it's funny, because I feel like maybe it's a second gen problem, where I'm not from the Philippines, so Filipinos don't quite get me. I'm from completely two different countries really, so I was never able to truly place myself. But I found that through that struggle and through me being unique, that is actually what has been my key and star ingredient into my success now. And my grandmother, like my lola-- which is grandmother in Tagalog-- on all sides, but specifically on my dad's side-- she was the one that really gave me my-- like my understanding and love and passion for Filipino flavors. So I have Flip Sigis now. ANITA LO: Congrats. JORDAN ANDINO: Thank you. I would say that like 90-- ANITA LO: Asian excellence. JORDAN ANDINO: Yeah, right? I would say that 90% of them are all in-- like all the food and flavors is all from my lola. And I think that it's important for all Asians to really hearken back to your roots and just know that whether or not you know a lot or a little, all that matters is that you're proud to be Asian. - Bits of-- you know, this is like home style. It's my mom's dish. - I'm legitimately drooling right now. - So this is what my mom used to call soy braised pork. JORDAN ANDINO: OK. ANITA LO: So I got some-- it's got some pork belly and some Berkshire spare ribs-- JORDAN ANDINO: Yeah. ANITA LO: --baby back ribs. And it's got some fried tofu, which really just soaks up all those juices. JORDAN ANDINO: Yeah, yeah, yeah, vessels just for flavor. - Yeah. Again, this is the base of my soup dumpling. - Mm. Oh my gosh. - So yeah. But I mean it's kind of like sinigang only without the vinegar. - So, you know, what I found with Filipino cuisine-- this was six years ago-- was it wasn't as popular. So my business partners came to me with an idea of this fun taqueria, and I was like, all right. Let's make it. Let's do that, but make it Filipino. And now Flip Sigi-- it's like it's Filipino food in Mexican vessels. And my hope is that they question it and through food it opens their mind, you know? And I want them to taste it and go, I know what guac is. I know pico. I know tortilla. But what is this chicken and pork like vinegar, soy thing? And hopefully that'll help be the gateway into my culture. So in front of you, you have-- my grandmother is the one that really inspires me. So there's also a pork belly. So there's chicken and pork adobo in there. - We made adobo together. - We did! We did-- literally did without even knowing. So inside of there you have French fries, pico de Gallo, sour cream, guac, cheese-- - French fries. - --pork belly, and chicken adobo. - Awesome. - Now this is like a little bit my California kind of creeping in. Yo. Mm. - This is great. This is feeding my soul. This is like love-- like mother, grandmother love, culture, heritage all in one. This is what I would make. No joke, this is what I got made fun of for bringing to school. I hope like any Asians hearing this now-- if they are being made fun of, understand that their food is delicious, and it's OK to be different. - This is why we got into food I think, you know? Our unstated mission statement at Annisa was about multiculturalism. It was about bringing new ideas from other cultures to fine dining in the hopes that people would be more adventurous. Food is culture. Food is identity. If you're open to other foods, hopefully that will translate into being open to other cultures and other people. - You know, think about it. Not everyone necessarily knows how or wants to learn how to dance. Not everyone wants to see art or care for it. Not a lot of people want to get out of their comfort zone and travel. However, every single human on this Earth, regardless of how you look or where you're from, has to eat. - Common denominator. - Yeah, it's a common denominator, right? So it's like if you can really strike a cord and get someone to remember a Filipino or Chinese dish or something that our family has created, maybe they'll be a little bit more curious about our cultures and really understand that there's more than just your little circle that influences day in day out your community. So I think that that's what's so powerful about food. And I find that true chefs really resonate with that idea of like here's my culture. Here's my bite. Here's my soul on a plate. Please try it, and hopefully you love it. You're going to have to tell me to stop eating this, because-- mm. Pleasure having you. Thank you so much for coming by. You're welcome back any time. - Thanks for that amazing burrito. - You're welcome. All right, take care. I'll see you soon. - Yep.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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