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Chang and Rockwell Members (Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker)


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#1 johnb

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 02:42 PM

Since there are probably many Rockwell members who don't follow the old Peter Chang thread these days, they may not be aware of the latest news, which is an article in the current issue of the New Yorker by famous food writer and humorist Calvin Trillin, discussing chef Chang, his peregrinations, and the group of Rockwell members who have followed him. So I thought it would be worthwhile to post this to bring it to the attention of those who may be interested but haven't picked up on it as yet.

DonRockwell.com is itself a key "character" in the story.

To actually read the full article you need to have a hard copy of the magazine, now on newsstands, or be a subscriber to the NYer web site.

#2 StephenB

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 03:26 PM

For the record, here is part of a note I sent to Calvin Trillin a year and a half ago at a time when the whereabouts of Peter Chang were unknown:

<<I am moved to tell you about Chef Peter Chang who cut quite a swath through Washington a couple of years ago on his way to god knows where. Chang is reputed to have been the chef for the president of China, a major hotel in Beijing, the ambassador to Washington, and then (this I can certify) at three restaurants in this area, and then one in Marietta, outside Atlanta. On each occasion, he received over the top reviews and consequently hordes of customers, and then disappeared. No one, including his last stopover in Georgia, has any information (to share) on where he is now. There are various theories to explain all this — trouble with la migra, with his wife, with the proprietors of the places he was working at, but the most likely seemed to me that he just couldn't bear the screaming traffic. I met him on a couple of occasions and beyond the language barrier I could see that he was a shy and deferential man. (A group of us tried to work our way through the menu on Summer Tuesday afternoons.) So the story is a mystery with psychological implications, international intrigue and of course a central theme of richly satisfying food. My prediction would be that your reportorial skills will quickly enable you to discover where he is and then … won’t tell. That mysterious conclusion would be all right with many of us who are almost as fascinated by the story itself as we are by the astonishing dishes he prepared.>>

There have been many communications since then, but that got the ball rolling.
--What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?
--Why then the beef, and let the mustard rest.
--Nay, then I will not; you shall have the mustard,
Or else you get no beef of Grumio.
--Why then the mustard without the beef.
_________________Taming of the Shrew

Conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.
________________ William Cowper, 1779

#3 zoramargolis

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 04:11 PM

Outstanding, Stephen. I hope my copy arrives in today's mail.

edited to add: with some difficulty, I managed to get the website to acknowledge my subscription, which enabled me to read the article online. How cool it must have been, to drive down to Charlottesville with Calvin Trillin and then to share a tableful of Peter Chang's food with him!

#4 leleboo

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 06:02 PM

I went to the local Borders today to no avail. Their truck deliveries were delayed by the snow fall. No matter. I gave myself a free, trial subscription to the New Yorker's digital edition. Done.

You can do the same thing with The New Yorker for the Kindle -- free two-week subscription. And if you decide to keep it, it's only $2.99/month.

"He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea." ~THHGTTG
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#5 Pat

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:35 PM

I have never missed The Trover Shop so much ;) . I'm not sure where to look for The New Yorker except at Union Station, and I don't get there much. Does CVS carry The New Yorker? Safeway?

My husband is going to look in College Park later in the week if I don't find it before then.

#6 DonRocks

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 09:01 PM

I have never missed The Trover Shop so much ;) .

Doing a full 540 ... when I was in elementary school, I used to ride my bike over to the Shuman's house (the Shuman family owned The Trover Shop), and we'd gather up the neighborhood kids for a pick-up game of baseball.

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#7 leleboo

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 09:06 PM

Doing a full 540

Shaun White would be proud! ;)
One can buy the whole issue online for $3.99, too.

"He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea." ~THHGTTG
"Are you from the future? Do they still have sandwiches there?" ~Montgomery Scott, Star Trek
------
Leigh


#8 Lydia R

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 07:59 AM

How cool it must have been, to drive down to Charlottesville with Calvin Trillin and then to share a tableful of Peter Chang's food with him!

After reading The New Yorker article, I'm interested in the "expeditionary team" road coversation. Four hours on the road with Calvin Trillin [half of it after having a gastric group hug from Peter Chang] must have been an adventure on its own.

"I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to life for." Lou Gehrig 1939

 


#9 B.A.R.

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 08:17 AM

Outstanding, Stephen. I hope my copy arrives in today's mail.

edited to add: with some difficulty, I managed to get the website to acknowledge my subscription, which enabled me to read the article online. How cool it must have been, to drive down to Charlottesville with Calvin Trillin and then to share a tableful of Peter Chang's food with him!

Mine has yet to come in the mail, and I HATE the New Yorker website ;) I can't wait to read this.

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#10 johnb

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 09:36 AM

After reading The New Yorker article, I'm interested in the "expeditionary team" road coversation. Four hours on the road with Calvin Trillin [half of it after having a gastric group hug from Peter Chang] must have been an adventure on its own.

I have to admit, probably my greatest regret in this whole thing is missing that road trip with Trillin. I mostly related to him across the lunch table, and in a couple of (fairly long) phone calls in the week or so afterward, but it's surely not the same. It was very interesting to watch how he worked, and I'm very impressed with the way he picked up on so many seemingly small details that make the story so readable. But I guess that's what sets a really great writer like him apart from a dud like me.

#11 RaisaB

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 12:40 PM

Note to self...must keep up with DR.Com boards.... I have been to Cville and in THAT shopping center a couple of times in the past few months! What an idiot I am! We have a college visit scheduled for two weeks from now to UVA...but I think I may have to go sooner. I am thrilled...my husband thinks I am a stalker.

#12 Miami Danny

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 03:31 PM

Terrific piece-really captured the food-obsessed at their best. No disrespect to those involved-congrats in fact, but I also wish Trillin had maybe written a little more about the food ;)

#13 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 04:00 PM

I'm curious about this article but I'm too lazy to get a free copy myself. If anyone feels like copying and pasting it and e-mail it to me at ericandblueboy@gmail.com, I'd really appreciate it.

#14 Mrs. B

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 04:42 PM

I'm curious about this article but I'm too lazy to get a free copy myself. If anyone feels like copying and pasting it and e-mail it to me at ericandblueboy@gmail.com, I'd really appreciate it.

not good attitude. ;)

#15 RaisaB

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 04:45 PM

I'm curious about this article but I'm too lazy to get a free copy myself. If anyone feels like copying and pasting it and e-mail it to me at ericandblueboy@gmail.com, I'd really appreciate it.

The link for the free trial up at the top there takes less time to fill out than your post did.... It is a great article. Stalkers...that is what we all are... ;)

#16 The Hersch

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 07:27 PM

I have never missed The Trover Shop so much ;) . I'm not sure where to look for The New Yorker except at Union Station, and I don't get there much. Does CVS carry The New Yorker? Safeway?

I don't think so, and I don't think so. Any decent (new) bookstore should have it, but then there aren't many of those around either. Border's on L St NW. Kramerbooks. There's a news-stand sort of shop in 2000 Pennsylvania Ave NW (behind Kinkead's) that carries it. I see that the News Room, which would have it, at Connecticut and Florida, appears to have closed.

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#17 hillvalley

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 07:43 PM

I have never missed The Trover Shop so much ;) . I'm not sure where to look for The New Yorker except at Union Station, and I don't get there much. Does CVS carry The New Yorker? Safeway?

My husband is going to look in College Park later in the week if I don't find it before then.

It's a sad day in the world when you can't buy The New Yorker on the Hill. I can pick up at copy at P&P and drop it off this weekend if you need.
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#18 Pat

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 07:47 AM

It's a sad day in the world when you can't buy The New Yorker on the Hill. I can pick up at copy at P&P and drop it off this weekend if you need.

Thanks for the offer, but I think I'm covered now ;) . I was able to look at the article yesterday in a friend's subscription copy. I scanned through the article and enjoyed it, but the conditions weren't optimal for a thorough reading. If my husband doesn't find one today, I can either get a copy of the article from her or haul myself to Union Station. I know the bookstore there carries the magazine. That is, though, the only place I can think of nearby that does carry it.

#19 Anna Blume

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 11:13 AM

Given theories for Peter Chang's series of flights, Calvin Trillin seems to have set up perfect conditions for testing one. Wonder if there are any vacancies in strip malls in the Research Triangle.

#20 Escoffier

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 11:27 AM

After reading The New Yorker article, I'm interested in the "expeditionary team" road coversation. Four hours on the road with Calvin Trillin [half of it after having a gastric group hug from Peter Chang] must have been an adventure on its own.

It was a most interesting ride (and conversation) that ranged far and wide. Some discussion about food, the reason Rio Rd is RYO and not REO, the proper name to call Mr. Jefferson's academical village, people we know in common, restaurants in NYC we've visited...as I said, a most interesting conversation and that was just on the way to and in C'ville before we even ate. The conversation on the way back was a bit more sedate as food and experience was being digested.

In memory of David Weber of Malvern Racing, Desmo4USA, and StephenB. Good friends gone forever.


#21 kirite

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 09:34 PM

I read Trillin's wonderful article in this week's New Yorker about Changians. PC is a stealth chef, quietly moving from NOVA (several spots) to the Atlanta suburbs, to Knoxville, and now Charlottesville. But perhaps for not very long. According to the article, Richmond and Fairfax beckon. Whereas most toques crave publicity, he seems to prefer anonymity. Don't expect him on Top Chef anytime soon.

#22 weinoo

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 12:16 PM

I particularly liked the following:

"'I think she's outdone herself today. Or she's improved the craft.' I (Mr. Trillin) had to agree. Of course, I had never before tasted Mrs. Chang's appetizers, but, whatever they'd been like, these were definitely better."

#23 DameEdna

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 05:40 PM

(Imagined)
The charming ex-Mrs. Peter Chang has a divorce lawyer who noodles around DR.com, looking for clues about Peter Chang's whereabouts, thus creating many a billable hour!

Later, several bus loads of Trillin chasers, who must visit every place CT has ever written about, and many PC fanatics. and multiple Cadillac Escalade SUVs of divorce lawyers converge on Charlottesville.

Later, a very bad restaurant in Adams-Morgan announces the arrival of a new chef.

It could happen.

Craig Johnson


#24 DonRocks

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 05:45 PM

The charming ex-Mrs. Peter Chang has a divorce lawyer who noodles around DR.com

His name is Dan Danmian.

And if I'm not the funniest person who has ever lived, someone please tell me who is.

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#25 kirite

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 09:02 PM

His name is Dan Danmian.

And if I'm not the funniest person who has ever lived, someone please tell me who is.

Henny Youngman?

#26 Erik Ox

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 05:13 PM

Slate weighs in with "Are Foodies Too Worried About the 'Authenticity' of Chinese Cuisine?"

#27 porcupine

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:08 PM

Slate weighs in with "Are Foodies Too Worried About the 'Authenticity' of Chinese Cuisine?"

Thanks for posting the link!

The author writes, "they also got me thinking: Is it possible "authenticity" is overrated in the cult of Chinese cooking?"

A-fuckin-men. Except you could leave out the last six words.

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#28 sheldman

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:14 PM

The question of the meaning and value of "authenticity" is a really good one, not only in food but in music and everything else worth thinking about. But I hadn't gotten the sense, from discussion here or from the recent magazine articles, that a perception of "authenticity" was really the thing that was making people fanatical about Peter Chang's cooking. Sounds like it was more "oh wow this is delicious" to me.

#29 Anna Blume

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:32 PM

The question of the meaning and value of "authenticity" is a really good one...

Or it could be when addressed by a writer with a more sophisticated approach to cultural analysis.

Persepolis was built by Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. Cosmopolitan factors register in design, style and motifs not only due to historical influence (passive) but more significantly, deliberate, authority-grabbing appropriation. But man o man is it "authentically" Persian.

That said, it's about time the spaghetti and meatballitization of regional Chinese cooking be redressed in this country.

#30 StephenB

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:43 PM

Slate weighs in with "Are Foodies Too Worried About the 'Authenticity' of Chinese Cuisine?"

The Slate piece by Jonah Weiner is based on a false premise. Neither Trillin nor Kliman discuss the authenticity of Peter Chang's cooking. They just say it tastes good.
--What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?
--Why then the beef, and let the mustard rest.
--Nay, then I will not; you shall have the mustard,
Or else you get no beef of Grumio.
--Why then the mustard without the beef.
_________________Taming of the Shrew

Conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.
________________ William Cowper, 1779

#31 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:57 PM

It's a silly argument. That's like saying one should never expand his horizon. If you don't seek what is authentic, how do you know it's not better? Seeking authenticity in this context just means you're willing to explore.

#32 johnb

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 09:44 PM

The Slate piece by Jonah Weiner is based on a false premise. Neither Trillin nor Kliman discuss the authenticity of Peter Chang's cooking. They just say it tastes good.

This is absolutely correct.

In any event, in all my readings on the subject of authenticity, in Chinese or Mexican or any other cuisine, it is clear there is simply no way to define authentic as it applies broadly to cuisine. It's tough enough to try to apply a rigid standard to a particular dish, let alone a whole cuisine. I recently tried to pin down Caesar salad. Even going back to Cesare Cardini doesn't help--he changed his (original) version of the dish over time, and his brother also got into the act; later he brought out a bottled "Caesar Salad Dressing" that is still available at your local grocer--it's pure glop. General Tsao's chicken was originally a great dish, actually, (it was invented in the 50's in Taiwan), but lots of copies have been made that aren't so hot, and have given it a bad rap. Food and dishes and cuisine are constantly evolving. All that matters is quality. Tex Mex isn't "authentic" Mexican, but there certainly can be great Tex Mex dishes. Are they authentic Tex Mex? Who cares.

By the way, I started reading the comments section after the Slate article and nearly doubled up when one of the commentators got Peter Chang confused with P F Chang. How's that authentic P F Chang Chinese food these days? (Only Paul Fleming knows for sure).

#33 stanley

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 11:25 PM

Hi, my name is Stanley. I'm here because I read with great interest the article in the New Yorker by Calvin Trillin entitled "Where'd Chang?" and I then googled "Peter Chang" and came up with this blog.
1. Does anyone know where Peter Chang is nowadays?
2. Does anyone know where Peter Chang would recommend for "Imperial Food" in Beijing and Shanghai?
Thanks.
Stanley

#34 RWBooneJr.

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 07:43 AM

The Slate article is a bit off base in its premise, in that neither the Trillin article nor the Kliman article focus on "authenticity." And as I noted in my post about my trip to Taste of China, I personally have no idea what authentic Chinese food is or whether Chang's food is authentic. But the article does pose an interesting question: is anybody out there doing good "American Chinese" food? This is the Chinese that most of us grew up on, and probably still love even when it's bad. Are there good versions?

I don't know of any great, or even good American Chinese places in DC (or elsewhere, for that matter), but I have had good versions of some familiar dishes around town. The Source's General Tso's Chicken Wings and Hong Kong Palace's Chengdu Kung Pao Chicken immediately come to mind. What else is out there?

#35 Anna Blume

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 09:33 AM

The Slate piece by Jonah Weiner is based on a false premise. Neither Trillin nor Kliman discuss the authenticity of Peter Chang's cooking. They just say it tastes good.

"In 2005, Binkley and some other serious eaters began patronizing a modestly priced strip-mall restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia called China Star, which, in addition to providing the usual Americanized Chinese staples, seemed capable of producing some remarkable Szechuanese cuisine. They eventually learned that China Star's chef was Peter Chang, who had won national competitions in China and had served as chef at the Chinese embassy." --Calvin Trillin, "Where's Chang?" The New Yorker (March 1, 2010): 26.

"...isn't it more likely that what he can't deal with is not success but the flood of ignorant review-trotters that success brings--people who, radiating delight at being in the new place to be, demand a reduction of spice in a dish that's designed to be spicy or order only the sort of Americanized Chinese dishes that apparently drive Chef Chang to distraction? So could it be that the necessity of cooking inauthentic food is what drives Chef Chang away? But why would someone who dreads cooking anything but authentic Szechuan cuisine move to Knoxville?" Op. cit., 28.

#36 StephenB

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:31 AM

"In 2005, Binkley and some other serious eaters began patronizing a modestly priced strip-mall restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia called China Star, which, in addition to providing the usual Americanized Chinese staples, seemed capable of producing some remarkable Szechuanese cuisine. They eventually learned that China Star's chef was Peter Chang, who had won national competitions in China and had served as chef at the Chinese embassy." --Calvin Trillin, "Where's Chang?" The New Yorker (March 1, 2010): 26.

"...isn't it more likely that what he can't deal with is not success but the flood of ignorant review-trotters that success brings--people who, radiating delight at being in the new place to be, demand a reduction of spice in a dish that's designed to be spicy or order only the sort of Americanized Chinese dishes that apparently drive Chef Chang to distraction? So could it be that the necessity of cooking inauthentic food is what drives Chef Chang away? But why would someone who dreads cooking anything but authentic Szechuan cuisine move to Knoxville?" Op. cit., 28.

Anna, nice typing. Now let’s read what it says.

Your first quote refers to a contest. There must be variation in any contest, or else everyone would be tied for first. When there is variation, there is individuality. If authenticity were codified, you wouldn't need a chef. So the contest cannot be judged on a rigid notion of authenticity, only on what succeeds, and that is a subjective judgment.

Your second quote refers to a conversation I had with Mr. Trillin in which we were listing various theories to explain Chang’s vagabond behavior. In the passage you cite, Trillin considers the backlash American customer theory, which I offered only half seriously, and, sensibly, dismisses it.
--What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?
--Why then the beef, and let the mustard rest.
--Nay, then I will not; you shall have the mustard,
Or else you get no beef of Grumio.
--Why then the mustard without the beef.
_________________Taming of the Shrew

Conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.
________________ William Cowper, 1779

#37 Anna Blume

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:43 AM

Anna, nice typing. Now let’s read what it says.

Your first quote refers to a contest. There must be variation in any contest, or else everyone would be tied for first. When there is variation, there is individuality. If authenticity were codified, you wouldn't need a chef. So the contest cannot be judged on a rigid notion of authenticity, only on what succeeds, and that is a subjective judgment.

Your second quote refers to a conversation I had with Mr. Trillin in which we were listing various theories to explain Chang’s vagabond behavior. In the passage you cite, Trillin considers the backlash American customer theory, which I offered only half seriously, and, sensibly, dismisses it.

Please don't patronize in what might be construed in a sexist fashion, though I fully appreciate how my transcription, by identifying evidence that contradicts your assertion, invites a defensive response. I admire your role in this article.

Close reading is what I have been trained to do and have spent years training others to do. I bothered to look to the text for what might have prompted the article in Slate which you and those who agreed with you did not.

I will delete this annoyed response momentarily since neither of us comes off very well in this exchange. ;)

#38 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:51 AM

Most of the time, Chinese restaurants in the U.S. survive on take-out/delivery of Americanized Chinese food - food that while it doesn't take a ton of time to cook, still takes time to prep and clean up afterwards. And the profit margin is low because the typical American will not pay for really good Chinese food. So you're basically forced by economics to spend 7 days a week, 12 hrs a day dishing out slop. Presumably people like the food, otherwise they wouldn't order it, yet it's still food that hardly requires much training to produce. Maybe Chang should look for a job at a high roller Vegas casino where he can charge $40 a plate to a more appreciate audience.

#39 DonRocks

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:54 AM

I will delete this annoyed response momentarily since neither of us comes off very well in this exchange. ;)

[I don't think either of you comes off poorly at all - a touch argumentative, perhaps, but that's okay.]

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#40 Tweaked

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:59 AM

Isn't there some parallel here between Italian, Italian American, and Olive Garden.

Italians in Italy probably won't recognize many Italian American dishes, but Italians immigrated from Italy, adapted to American ingrdients, developed a cusine that borrows from both, and then Olive Graden (and similar chains) step in and create mass produced dumbed down versions.

Many Asians similarly immigrated to America, were forced to adapt to new ingredients, and then along comes PF Changs...

This also works both ways such as the Korean or Hawaiian adaption of Spam in their cooking.

I would argue, that in general, we are not against the cross-pollination of food and food cultures, it's the PF Changs, Olive Gardens, and other purveyors of mediocrity we protest.
Meat is Murder...Tasty Tasty Murder

#41 jparrott

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 11:15 AM

"In 2005, Binkley and some other serious eaters began patronizing a modestly priced strip-mall restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia called China Star, which, in addition to providing the usual Americanized Chinese staples, seemed capable of producing some remarkable Szechuanese cuisine. They eventually learned that China Star's chef was Peter Chang, who had won national competitions in China and had served as chef at the Chinese embassy." --Calvin Trillin, "Where's Chang?" The New Yorker (March 1, 2010): 26.

Briefly reprising my role as "P. Dant" in "High School Musical -1: The Negative Years"...I think this selection goes to credibility, not authenticity.

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#42 LowellR

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 11:24 AM

1. Does anyone know where Peter Chang is nowadays?

Stanley - please see this thread

#43 Anna Blume

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 11:40 AM

Exegesis: My first quote identified a passage wherein Calvin Trillin sets up a dichotomy between "Americanized" and "Szechuanese" cuisine. The first adjective modifying "cuisine" implies that a cuisine was transformed in the Americas, that is, altered, or distanced from that which it originally was. The second adjective seeks to identify the "Ur" cuisine as that of the Szechuan Provence.

The second sentence of that quote leads the reader into the terms of the dichotomy by establishing context. Yes, JP, it is indeed about Chang's credibility, but it also sets him up as someone whose talent has been recognized formally by the Chinese in China and abroad. In fact, he was brought over to this country to represent China's cuisine--distinct from Americanized food. Again, implications. One of Trillin's skills as a writer is to lead one into his story and not to spell everything out.

Not exactly Socratic method, but not unrelated. Note the later reference to "Szechuan Boy" as the name of the restaurant that Chang brings with him. It's a way of reasserting the idea that Peter Chang embodies the cooking of one, particular region of China.

The second quote in my post explicates what was implied in the first sentence. In this thread, DR members claim that neither Trillin nor Kliman discuss authenticity. Since this thread is devoted exclusively to Trillin's article, I merely found that, to the contrary, the piece in The New Yorker uses the words "inauthentic" and "authentic", adjectives derived from the noun "authenticity". Note that these adjectives appear in the same exact order as the words "Americanized" and "Szechuanese" in my first quote. Not the focus of the article, to be sure, but significant nonetheless and certainly worth pursuing and developing as an article in Slate.*

*You Changians are the focus. And Chang.

* * *

Tweaked: exactly! See my post about spaghetti and meatballs above. Look for Kim Severson's article about this issue in The NYTs some years ago, a catalyst for much discussion and argumentation over at a different message board.

#44 Pat

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 12:20 PM

From Todd's chat today:

One more thing ... There was a recent piece in Slate -- on Slate -- that talked about the two pieces, mine and Trillin's, and suggested that what both had in common was a kind of privileging of Chinese food cooked for Chinese over Chinese food cooked for Americans. I can only say that for me, what I was "privileging" was Chinese food cooked by a genius.






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