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In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, small businesses including Asian restaurants have been facing setbacks. Danny Bowien, chef and founder of Mission Chinese Food, closed his restaurants in Bushwick and the Lower East Side earlier this month. Now, he’s bringing his skills to the home kitchen, offering easy recipes and focusing on his upcoming vegan cookbook, which he talks about with host Jian DeLeon on this episode of ‘Vibe Check.’
Mission Chinese Food is in solidarity with other neighborhood Asian restaurants like Nom Wah and Woo’s Wonton, all of which experienced a considerable drop in business during the month leading up to the outbreak (2:00).
The below interview is a transcribed version of ‘Vibe Check.’ It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Danny Bowien: It was slow, really slow, I would say almost more than 50% slower.
Jian DeLeon: That’s crazy.
DB: Yeah. That was also in Bushwick too. So, that was a kind of thing. It wasn’t just in Chinatown.
JD: I feel a lot of Asian Americans in particular, with Trump calling it the Chinese Virus, and then backtracking and saying Asian Americans are important to him, and he supports them or whatever, I feel like Asian Americans in particular have become more cognizant of their otherness in that way, where it’s they can be accepted for only so long, and it isn’t a problem until all of a sudden, it becomes a problem in cases like this.
DB: Yeah. I think that Trump’s comments are just based out of pure ignorance, and I feel that that’s what racism is. It’s fear and ignorance. And so again, when I was a young kid I wasn’t really even angry to a point. I was saddened by people calling me the Chinese kid or racial slurs in grade school, junior high, all the way through high school. The first half of the semester, in ninth grade, the gym coach comes over to me, and I’m horrible at sports, and he’s like, hey, how much do you weigh? Come over here, step on this scale for me. I weighed like 75 pounds. I was really skinny. He was like, hey, you should be on the wrestling team. He totally talked me into it. I was like, no, I really don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m not good at that. But I just really wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be a part of something because I didn’t know my family. I was always getting all those questions asking about my heritage. Even if it means going and wrestling, but I endured so much abuse, because I was different. At first I was like, I’m just the new kid, you know what I mean? And it didn’t last very long. It was kind of like my first stint cooking. When I cooked in New York the first time, I only worked here for seven months and I had to move back home to Oklahoma because I just got hazed in every kitchen I worked in.
Self-isolating at home has allowed Danny to spend more time with his six-year-old son, who’s motivating him to learn Korean. Still, Danny can’t help but worry about how things will change for his son and other Asian families in the aftermath of the pandemic. The transition from working up to 90 hours a week to becoming a home teacher and work-from-home chef has also been difficult, even grievous for the drop in productivity (9:24). Despite a lack of culinary epiphanies, Danny is recontextualizing his daily meals to discover ways of incorporating them into his upcoming cookbook.
DB: The idea with the new cookbook is that everything is going to be something that you could actually cook at home. With Mission Chinese Food, the first book that we did, it’s narrative, there’s a duck recipe that takes three days. The [new] book’s due April 1st. All of [the recipes] need to be able to be put together, hopefully in one pot, and hopefully not take longer than 30 minutes. So the kabocha miso, or the pumpkin miso, is super simple.
Danny runs through the recipe, one of his son’s favorites, which has taken on different forms since its conception (13:45). In addition to being the ideal breakfast soup, it’s also the perfect opportunity to sneak in all kinds of vegetables for picky eaters:
- Remove seeds from the kabocha before dicing into large pieces
- Chop up either Japanese leeks or scallions into one inch pieces (use scallions in a 3:1 ratio with the kabocha)
- Warm up a pot containing olive oil
- Add scallions, one peeled and diced potato, and kabocha into the pot
- Pour in Korean kelp soup stock or a vegan bouillon alternative
- Cover the ingredients with water and bring to a boil
- Add in two quarts of water, 1 1/2 tablespoon of red miso, and 1 1/2 tablespoon of Korean miso or white miso
- Continue to boil until potatoes and kabocha are thoroughly cooked and soup turns into an orange color
- Skim the top to remove foam
- Add a handful of chopped white kimchi, and serve with rice
While it’s important to eat healthy, Danny ends by talking about his frequent indulgence in ice cream during the quarantine, staying optimistic, and as Jian puts it, approaching the new lifestyle as a blessing in disguise.
Stay tuned for new episodes of ‘Vibe Check’ every Tuesday and Thursday.