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Jessie Chien

Name: Jessie ChienJessie Chien

Location: Guangzhou, China (via Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area)

Food Ideology: Eat smart, eat well. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a place where avocados grow in my friends’ backyards and sushi is preferred over hot dogs.  My mother made a point to shop at farmer’s markets long before ‘locavore’ was even a word, and thanks to the Chinese culture I was eating pigs’ ears and feet way before nose-to-tail dining burst into the restaurant scene from the foggy alleyways of London.  I’ve carried a lot of food ideals, picked up from my youth and countless hours spent working in restaurants, through to my adult interests and forays into food policies and home-cooking.  In Brooklyn, it was easy to surround myself with farmers and friends and promote fresh, local and sustainable eating- so that was my ideology then.  Here in China, I am just striving not to pick up a lethal disease from pesticides and must learn simply how to eat smart – but hopefully it is a smart that stays within the ideals I already lay claim to.  I also can’t forget that the Chinese have thousands of years of cooking experience behind them – so they’ve got to be doing some things right.  They say that in Southern China, the locals will eat anything with four legs except a table, anything that flies except and airplane.  So, I must also not forget to eat well.

Cooking Strategy: Read as many cooking books and blogs as possible.  Eat out for inspiration.  Have a dinner party.

First Cooking Memory:  Aside from sitting on a stool in the kitchen watching my mother chop, dice, and sauté since before I can even remember, my own first cooking memory involves, unfortunately, the very un-seasonal ingredient of canned Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.  The summer before 4th grade I took a cooking class at some summer program, because like all Chinese kids I was not allowed just to run around and play all summer- I had to be enrolled in some form of school or program.  I am pretty sure this cooking class was taught in the science lab at the middle school, but regardless of location or availability of supplies, cooking during the day was not enough, and so I begged my parents to let me test out my newly discovered talents on my family.  Choosing to re-create the ever-so-beyond-my-generation dish of Chicken Broccoli Divan, my father took me to our local Safeway and I proceeded to pick out every single ingredient I needed, from the lifeless white chicken breasts to the plasticky packaged mozzarella ball and yes, canned cream of mushroom soup.  I haven’t stopped cooking since.

Handicap: China.  (Seriously.  I mean, can someone plant a lime tree around here…? Or ship me some San Marzanos…?)

Food Sources:  Back in Brooklyn – my CSA, the Stinky Bklyn Family and KY grocery on Court Street.  Here in China, it’s the wet market that’s a 15-minute walk from my house…the Thai vendor in the back alleyways of Qing Ping, and whatever I or my friends here get shipped in from the States!

Cuisine I Can’t Live Without: Japanese

Favorite Kitchen Tool: Mandoline.  Wait, no- Microplane wins by a hair.

Secret Ingredient: Lemon Zest.  I use it far more than I really should.  See, ‘Favorite Kitchen Tool’

Guilty Pleasure: Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  Yeah, so what.

Milk or Dark: See’s nuts and chews

Dogs or Cats: Boston Terriers and Siamese.

Sauna or Steam: Steam, that way I can’t see anyone and conversely they can’t see me.

If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 kitchen tools would you want to have with you?
A chinese cleaver (that thing does it all), a french press (I am hoping to be stranded on a Javanese or Sumatran island), and an apple slicer.  Just kidding, that last one is the most useless thing ever, and I would much rather have a large sieve/colander/straining device.