Friday, November 16, 2007

Red Carpet Massacre

I'll admit it...
I'm a recovering Duranee. There are no support groups for people like us, no 12 step programs. Only fan clubs and sub-cultures. Growing up in the early 80's Duran Duran were THE band to listen to and not surprisingly they are still considered to be icons of fashion, music and culture. Let's not forget that John Taylor's wife is the brains behind Juicy Couture, not to mention that most of the band members sickeningly married models, YUCK! And in their hay-day they were always on the cusp of the latest and greatest trends in hairstyle and clothing and of course, music.

I won't waste time reminiscing on days gone by and how as a pre-adolescent, pre-pubescent teen they influenced my every thought and decision. How at the age of 13, seeing them in concert, LIVE, IN THE FLESH at MSG caused an even greater addiction to them. I think many of you out there can relate, even those of you who are of the Justin Timberlake era can relate to what this is like. I digress....

I'll just mention that I recently fell off the bandwagon. Duran Duran just completed an unprecedented stint on broadway, playing 10 consecutive shows from Nov. 3 through Nov. 13th. Their gig started at the Ethel Barrymore theatre but their last 3 shows were re-scheduled due to local Union Strikes (writers strikes). These shows were moved to Roseland Ballroom. Needless to say seeing them perform was simply "AWESOME!" It didn't really matter what venue they played at or what night of the week it was. The fans ate them up. I would have gladly had Mr. Simon Le Bon for dessert. They debuted songs from their latest CD, entitled Red Carpet Massacre (released Nov. 13th). But they also played their classics like Rio, Hungry Like the Wolf and Save A Prayer showing that they still know what pleases their audience.

During the show I completely regressed into a screaming, frenzied teen. Embarrassing? Perhaps for my fiance, but well worth it for me. One night of un-controlled nuttiness! I can look back and tell my kids I saw them when I was 13 and again when I was 30 something. They still rock! The sad thing is that they are less one original band member, that being Andy Taylor (guitarist). He split from them recently for unknown reasons and will be publishing a book about Duran Duran soon. Can't wait to read the juicy details!

On another note, Sirius Satellite Radio is helping them kick off the release of their CD by allowing them to do a 3-day take over of the Super Shuffle (12) channel. Their Red Carpet Radio premiered on Nov. 13th at 12 pm, but you can still catch them till the 16th. Their program consists of a few band members hosting and highlighting some of their favortie albums and musicians who have influenced them. They'll also be playing some of their favorite songs from various eras including the British punk and post-punk era (Clash, Pistols, Damned). They play a wide variety of music but I mostly enjoyed listening to the post punk bands X-Ray Spex (The Day the World Turned Dayglo), The Only Ones (Another Girl, Another Planet), Richard Hell and the Voidoids (Blank Generation) but also some American classics like Blondie (RIp Her To Shreds).

I've had a good life!

Up coming appearances include:

  • American Music Awards, Sunday Nov. 18th from 8-11 on ABC
  • Ellen, Tuesday Nov. 20th
  • A&E Private Sessions, Nov. 25th, check local listings

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Found In Translation?

This week I attended a forum which explored how asian cuisines become a part of the American mainstream. It was presented by the Asian/Pacific/American Insitute at NYU and co-sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. The discussions touched upon many Asian foods, but for simplicity sake it focused on Chinese, Indian and Philippine cuisines to discover how these specifically, have been "translated" into American culture and cuisine.

The forum was comprised of a panel of distinguished culinary masters and cookbook authors including:
Grace Young, an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) award-winning cookbook author of The Breath of a Wok and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen;
Amy Besa, owner of Cendrillon, a Philippine restaurant in New York, and an IACP award-winning co-author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, and
Maya Kaimal, the author of Curried Favors (IACP award winner) and Savoring the Spice Coast of India, and creator of Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods.

Most of us have eaten some form of asian food, more popularly Chinese food. It has been around in this country for over a century but is the chinese food we eat today truly Chinese? The trend today is to find"authentic" Chinese food or rather, the dishes that chefs eat behind closed doors. And Filipino food, which some say is posed to be the next asian food to be "discovered", is the ideal cuisine to watch as it slowly becomes part of the AMerican culinary landscape.

In the 1800's chinese immigrants (mainly of Cantonese descent) were brought to the US to work on the railroad and in mines. They struggled to assimilate into American culture because they would not compromise their ancestral customs. They did what they could to earn money including cleaning and cooking for Americans. They had to learn what flavors pleased the American palette and how to cook with ingredients that were locally grown. As their numbers increased, so did their struggle to make money. By opening restaurants that offered inexpensive meals to curious Americans, they were able to make a small living. Thus Chop Suey was born. Dishes like chop suey helped introduce chinese cooking styles to this country and it was a means for the early chinese americans to sustain themselves. Though the taste of chop suey had little to do with authentic Cantonese Chinese cooking, it did offer a quick appetizing meal to the Americans. Afterwards other Chinese foods were born, like eggrolls and pork fried rice, though these were not the foods that the Chinese cooked in their own homes. Americans didn't realize that Chinese cuisine was far more sophisticated. Today, however we can enjoy more sophisticated Chinese dishes like authentic Shanghai soup dumplings, yellow fish stews and shark's fin soups at establishments that rival even the best restaurants in China. It took 2 decades but now there are Chinese restaurants in every city in the U.S.

We've also seen that Indian food has become more fashionable and sophisticated. For years Indian restaurants in the US offered limited dishes on their menus, the usual chicken curry or coconut curry dishes. We've only recently become exposed to regional Gujarat and Kerala foods, breads like Nan and Puri and various Korma's that incorporate nuts and creamy, tomato sauces. India for many decades was not a restaurant culture. Because of its cast system Indians were discouraged from consuming foods that were prepared by someone of a lower cast and therefore eating out at a restaurant meant not knowing who prepared your food. Since Indians were not accustomed to owning restaurants in their home country those who endevored to open restaurants here offered simple dishes that would satisfy the American masses. All of that is changing in India today with their growing prosperity and booming international trade. Their regional cuisines are no longer "foreign" because airlines now offer direct flights there and American businessmen, as well as other travelers are bringing Indian cooking techniques and flavors back home with them. In general politcs and trade have exposed Americans to new cuisines and flavors all over the world.

As a Filipino-American I know that Filipinos are like sponges, absorbing whatever is put in front of us from language and religion to politics and education. It is a 7000 island, diverse archipelago that was ruled by the Spanish for 350 years and by America for 50 years. Our customs reflect influences from both cultures as well as Malaysian and Chinese. Our staple foods are fish, rice and coconut because these can be locally caught and grown, respectively, though our regional cuisines represent local and "borrowed" inlfuences.

So how does a Filipino restaurateur introduce our regional cuisines to America when the main flavors in Filipino cooking are sour and salty-two things that are not generally appealing to Americans? For example, our regional cuisines include dishes like: Sinigang- a pork dish which uses patis (salted fish sauce) and tamarind paste; Adobo-a vinegar based pork and chicken dish; Kare Kare- a beef (more tradionally beef tripe) dish which is served with a condiment called bagoong, an anchovie paste. Though rice dishes, noodle dishes and eggroll does exist in our cuisine, it is almost redundant to offer these because the Chinese practically own these dishes. How do we create curiosity in Amercians with courses that are distinct from the other asian foods already around? Thai food has its peanut sauces, Vietnamese food has it's French influences with basil, Koreans have kim chi and Japanese have sushi and sashimi. If an American has never tasted Filipino food in the first place, what would make them decide to go to a filipino restaurant? Unfortunately most Americans were not curious enough to choose Filipino over Japanese food. So the Philippine culinary dilemma remained for some time.

For as long as I've lived in New York City, I've only known of 3 filipino restaurants; Cendrillon (filipino for Cinderella), Elvee's "turo turo" (meaning "point point" to buffet dishes from behind a glass partition), and lastly Kuma Inn (a play on the word Kumain- meaning "to eat"). There are so few because there hasn't been much of an American demand. Likewise, for years even filipinos have not gone looking for "home-style" restaurants because they would rationalized, " Why should I pay for that? I can make it better", or "my mom/grandma/auntie can make it better."

Elvee's and Kuma Inn have succeeded in providing more tradional and "authentic" filipino courses to both their own and to non- flipinos. The courses at both places are good. However, the down side is that, because filipino fares like this are not in high demand, they will remain small, low priced establishments. While there's nothing wrong with that and I wouldn't trade the filipino food I grew up on for any other cuisine, it is still a dream for filipinos to find finer spots to eat. It is also a dream for Filipino restaurateurs to open more sophisticated and fashionable establishments that will have a stronger customer draw. Restaurants where they can proudly feature their regional dishes to a broader audience in style, serving foods to modern day, cosmopolitan Filipinos while also attracting hip, curious Americans. Fortunately, in the last 10 years the younger generations of Fil-Ams have begun seeking restaurants that serve the cuisine they grew up on, the flavors that they miss and they are more prone to bring with them their American friends, co-workers and significant others. Filipinos are considered to be the second fastest growing Asian population in the U.S. The doors have begun to open.

So as the Chinese and Indians did before, Philippine restaurateurs, like Amy Besa (owner of Cendrillon) have to find creative ways of serving their cultural foods while at the same attracting more Americans. Amy and her husband Romy Dorotan (head chef at Cendrillon) are attempting to do this. There are some Filipinos who feel that the flavoers at Cendrillon are not "authentic" filipino. But there are 2 factors which are the catalists behind these results. Firstly many of the Filipino foods we filipinos are used to are, in fact generational. Recipes that our families used have evolved from their original form, taking and borrowing ingredients from the other cultures we have come in contact with. Since the Philippines was a U.S. colony for 50 years, the Philippines has seen a massive influx of American food products which have become part of daily filipino cooking. Amy herself admits that her great- grandmother's recipe for a pork dish may not be the same as someone else's grandmother's recipe. Secondly, let's face it, every culture that has immigrated here has had to assimilate in some way. As Asian-Americans we attended American schools, listened to American music, ate popular foods and played American sports. It is an important part of adapting to new environments.

So a refreshing feature about Cendrillon is that they always try to incorporate filipino ingredients with ingredients that are locally available, and the recipes are never quite the same. Their menu changes seasonally to make use of new ingredients that are both locally grown and also brought in from remote locations. This past week they flew in Maine Lobsters, Oysters, Clams and Fish from the renowned Brown Trading Company of Portland and invited guest chef Kathy Gunst to cook with them. Courses included Maine Oyster Ceviche, Filipino Clam Soup and Coffee Roasted Hake with Autumn Vegetables. A One night only event entitled, "New England meets the Philippines." Another item on their menu is called "Grace Rice". This combines suman (a steamed, sticky rice, usually served as a sweet dessert) with pork, baby shrimp, cilantro and basil, served as a side dish. They offer rare Chinese teas, they've also created desserts that were featured on Martha Stewart Living.

I am proud of Cendrillon's efforts to reach out to a wider group of people, showing that Filipinos are adaptable and open-minded. But I'm also proud of the smaller venues like Kuma Inn and Elvee's for keeping true to traditional flavors and serving them in an easy, comfortable manner. Mostly, I look forward to seeing and supporting newer restaurants.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Living Wall Decor!

I absolutely love these Fish Pods! I searched for some time through magazines, websites and stores for cool and imaginative gift items for the holidays and nothing really caught my attention the way these fishpods did. They are, in short, living wall decor.

Fish Pods are wall vases with an innovative design. They're made of a clear, domed lucite, they are lightweight and have an outer lip that screws easily into any wall. There's a hole at the top portion of the dome so you can use them as fishbowls. Simply fill them with water and place colorful beta or goldfish and other sea creatures into them. You can also fill them with flowers or layers of different colored sand to create multi-colored strata. Or how about colored pebbles or grains to create interesting textures. You can let your imagination run wild.

Both adults and kids will get a kick out of these and they are sure to stir up lots of conversation.
They have a 9" diameter and are priced at $35.00 per bowl. Find them at