When did you first start cooking?
I first started cooking when I moved away from home to college.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Very homestyle; I cook very much by feel. I learned this from my Mom. Whenever I visited home from college, I’d badger her to teach me her signature dishes, but she didn’t hand me a recipe card or start writing down measurements. Instead, she brought me to the kitchen and just started showing me the technique. Technique, she said, is really all you need to begin cooking. Add a bit of that, a bit of this, a tiny bit of this one, and go by feel and taste. Knowing when a dish is ready comes with experience and instinct, both of which will develop over time. This is very much how I cook, even now. In fact, sometimes I struggle to pen a recipe because I need to put down measurements to a fluid recipe!
Do you have a signature dish that you are particularly proud of?
Ooh yes! It’s more my Mom’s signature dish, but I’m proud because I reproduced it with measurements (this took some finagling). It’s also one of the most-made recipes on my blog. It’s the red-braised pork belly, a classic Shanghai dish that is loved by everyone.
Is there a specific dish you can recall from your childhood which has influenced you?
Shanghai Shaomai, this is something my Mom has made since I was a child, and continued to make when I came back home to visit. It’s a Shanghai breakfast food and can often be found on street stands in the morning. The pork and shrimp dim-sum shumai is more widely known, but this savory pork and sticky rice stuffed shaomai is my favorite! This was what first sparked me to investigate traditional foods specific to the Jiang su region of China, where Shanghai is. Both of my parents are from Shanghai, so this is the food that I grew up with.
You place great importance on your Chinese heritage and its influence in your recipes. Can you tell us a little more about this influence?
I grew up eating homestyle Chinese food, specifically from the Jiang-su region. My parents were both born in Shanghai, and I feel so lucky to have grown up eating homestyle Chinese food. I grew up on shiitake, lotus roots, dumplings, and winter melon instead of pastas or casseroles. Star anise and sichuan peppercorns were staple spices in our pantry. I firmly believe that Eastern ingredients have a place in Western cuisine culture, and we are seeing more Asian fusion dishes nowadays. My recipes simply show how these ingredients can exist in harmony, creating unique and delicious flavor profiles, like this miso apple pie and lemongrass corn soup.
Tell us about a particularly memorable dish you have eaten.
I’d have to say a dish at Uni, a beautiful, absolutely wonderful sushi restaurant in Boston. I had a simple onsen egg, which is a Japanese style slow-poached egg. It’s a simple, classic Japanese dish, in a broth packed with umami, but it was so delicious. Actually, that whole tasting menu was just delicious.
Your blog is stylistically beautiful, has photography always been important to you? Did the cooking or the camera come first?
Thank you so much for your kind words! Photography has always been a focus. I was already photographing weddings when I started my blog, so it became a natural extension to start photographing my recipes. I wanted to document what I made to capture my cooking journey. Of course, my first food photos were atrocious! It was definitely (and still is) a fun learning process, not only to plate food, but also to develop my personal voice, stylistically.
Where would you advise foodies to go in your hometown of the South End?
Oh, this is way too hard. I’d say a must-stop is the street Shawmut, there you’ll find Farm & Fable, the most fabulous cookbook store; Formaggio’s Kitchen for cheeses, wine, and other small batch food; Coppa, an amazing restaurant that never ceases to satisfy me; and South End Buttery, which is my favorite meeting and coffee spot. Of course, there’s also Blackbird Doughnuts on Tremont, my favorite doughnut shop!