NYC Chef Wants To Challenge Your Tastebuds

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 06/05/2015

You’ve probably eaten at a Phở restaurant, or tried out a Bánh mì food truck, but Vietnamese chef Matt Le-Khac wants you to start tasting all of the delicious Vietnamese dishes you have been missing out on.

That’s why we’re partnering Immigrant Heritage Month to bring you Flavors of Home – a celebration of cuisine from different cultures. RSVP here to try Le-Khac’s recipes in person, mingle with some of New York’s best chefs, and celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month! Preview Le-Khac’s secrets below.

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FWD.us: What cooking tips did you learn in your parent’s kitchen, or from another family member as a child?

Le-Khac: The scent that sends me back into Momma Le-Khac’s kitchen is the smell of charred onions.  It’s my ratatouille trigger. Charring onions and ginger along with spices like anise pods and cassia bark is quintessential to the heart of Vietnamese broths.

FWD.us: How do you think Vietnamese food is perceived in the United States? What’s a common misconception?

Vietnamese food is at this beautiful threshold where the general populace is familiar enough with the popular dishes of the cuisine and ready dive deeper into the rabbit hole. The misconception is to relegate the entire cuisine just to Bánh mì and Phở when there are three dozen other popular dishes that all Vietnamese know and love.  As American eaters explore more and more dishes, the one commonality that would surface is the essentialness of the herb plate.  Any dish in the Vietnamese canon is literally just an excuse for an eater to garnish a variety of these amazingly fresh herbs on top.  The Vietnamese table behaves more like a kitchen counter than the plate-ready fashion of the American restaurant table.  A Vietnamese table whether at a restaurant or home is a frenzy of movement ranging from wrapping, garnishing, mixing–all intermingling with gossiping, laughter and exclamations of deliciousness.

FWD.us: What’s a dish that you hate – Vietnamese or otherwise – and why?

Le-Khac: Poutine. A good fry is like the bones of a pizza: beautiful crispy crust on the outside and nice, moist and fluffy on the inside.  Why do you spend all this effort double frying to make this wonderfully crisp fry, all in order to destroy this beautiful textural contrast by drenching it in gravy and turning it into a sopping mess? Throw some curds on mash potatoes and save yourself the trouble. Maybe it’s a sadistic thing – to see something beautiful be destroyed.

Bún bò Huế

A bowl of Bún bò Huế. Image: hanhphuccuame.com

FWD.us: What dish do you make the absolute best?

Bún bò Huế: the bigger, bolder, fiery brother of Beef Phở. Born from the culinary heart of Vietnam, Huế; it ups the ante on Phở by adding a golden ratio of pork and beef bones, simmered for days.  A perfect bite of anything should exhilarate all your tastes senses. Umami from slow simmered bones, citrus from lemongrass, a deep sweetness from rock sugar and fresh daikon, savoriness from fish sauce, slight bitter freshness from shaved banana flower and fiery heat from the chili paste.  It’s sad for me to hear that when other Viet restaurants in the city put this dish on the menu, only three customers try this deserving dish a week. These numbers can’t justify the cost of keeping it on the menu.  We sell a couple hundred a week at Ăn Chơi, I credit this to my mother’s recipe for the chili paste which is the essence of this dish.  If I and other chefs push hard enough, one day it will be more popular than Phở – where it belongs.  A good execution of the Bún bò Huế can’t push it alone, it also takes the open mind of the customer for this to happen.

Join Le-Khac and FWD.us for the Flavors of Home celebration by RSVPing here.

Bay Area Artist Creates "The Game of Hope"

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 06/05/2015

If you were trying to immigrate to the U.S. and achieve the “American Dream,” would you make it? That’s the question Bay Area painter EfrenAve asks in his vibrantly designed board game simply called “The Game of Hope.” After years of living without documentation in the U.S., EfrenAve adapted his experience into a series of paintings, creating a board game surrounding the images. As players make their way across the board game, the roll of the dice decides whether they land on an experience that advances their journey, or deports them.

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Each image on the board of “The Game of Hope” represents a different experience in EfrenAve’s life.

FWD.us sat down with EfrenAve to discuss his immigration story, the imagery in “The Game of Hope,” and the stories he hopes his work translates.

FWD.us: “The Game of Hope” brings to life very specific experiences for undocumented immigrants. How did the concept of making a board game out of your work come together?

EfrenAve: I was born in Mexico and I crossed the border when I was 19.  Later, I went back to Mexico to visit my family, and I had to cross again to get back. That time I got caught. Where I come from in Mexico, there are no other options – you have to come to the U.S.

The original idea for the game was that I was already painting all of these images about immigration, and I feel like coming to this country is kind of like a game. It’s a game of chance, the same as crossing the border and seeing if you can make it. When I came here, I started to hear about the “American Dream” – I never heard those phrases back in Mexico. I’m still not sure what that means.

FWD.us: How did you start painting, and why do you paint?

EfrenAve: One of the reasons I became an artist is because my wife (Cristina Velazquez) has been an artist her entire life. We don’t have a tradition of education in our family… a lot of our families don’t understand a lot about art. I decided to take a drawing class, and I stayed there. Since that day, I’ve been painting and creating art almost every day.

I don’t think I paint immigration issues. I paint a self-portrait. I lived this experience and I’ve illegally crossed the border, so painting helps me understand myself.

FWD.us: What are some of the images in “The Game of Hope” that highlight the challenges of being undocumented?

Remittances

When we come to work in the United States, we send money back to our family in Mexico. So it’s like he is folding up the money as a paper airplane. The family is like little birds – they don’t have any other income, they are just waiting for the money to come from the north.

Separation

This one is called “Separation.” It’s a family who has lived here for 10 or 20 years. They have lived the experience of crossing and working, but they end up getting caught.

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This one is the map of Mexico. So it’s like you are getting sucked in by your own country, by corruption.

funeral

Sometimes, when you are undocumented, you have a family member die. But you cannot go back and go to their funeral. So, this one shows that struggle.

To play “The Game of Hope” and see EfrenAve’s work in person, join FWD.us at Wix Lounge in San Francisco on Thursday, June 11th for a celebratory #ImmigrantHeritageMonth event! RSVP here.

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Four Questions for Rajiv Khilnani

Posted on 06/01/2015

FWD.us met up with abstract painter Rajiv Khilnani in his studio space in San Francisco’s SOMA district. See Rajiv’s work in person – Join FWD.us in celebrating the talented artists who have helped make the Bay Area such a vibrant community during an evening of free drinks, music, live performances and art exhibitions as part of Immigrant Heritage Month.

FWD.us: How do you define yourself as an artist?

Khilnani: I’ve been involved in fine arts for 20+ years. I started way back in the early 90’s back home in Pakistan. I used to be a watercolorist. I moved to the United States in 2000 and started getting more involved in more contemporary abstract works. When I came to the U.S., I got involved with art groups and associations and was trying to figure out what my style was going to be. I decided to start doing pure abstract work. For the longest time I was doing abstract on paper, but then I started painting on canvas as well.

I paint impulsively. There is nothing planned ahead of time. I just decide on a few primary colors that I’m going to use, but it’s all experimental. I like to bring in a lot of textures and design elements, and a lot of those elements are rooted in my cultural heritage. So, I want to have my abstracts be contemporary but have my own distinct style.

FWD.us: What influence has your heritage had on your style as an artist?

Khilnani: Whenever I was exhibiting in the U.S., one of the common comments I would get from people was “oh, your works are very vibrant.” I would be asked, “Don’t you paint in whites? Don’t you have toned down colors?” I would also be told I had a lot of earthy tones. This is pretty much inherited from my culture. A lot of rich colors – reds, and saffrons, and blues.

If you go back in architectural history, let’s say to the Taj Mahal, you see very integrated designs on the walls. I try to bring in elements of some of those designs into my works by using different techniques…  sometimes my work also starts looking like fabric because it has those colors and design elements in them.

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“MULTIFEEL” – A piece by Khilnani, made with acrylic on canvas.

FWD.us: You never went to art school, so how did you end up becoming an artist?

Khilnani: It’s interesting, becoming an artist is actually related to my immigration process. I had already finished high school and was waiting for my immigration papers to be processed so I could come to the U.S., so I was essentially looking for something to do. I decided to take some art classes, and I was blessed to have a phenomenal teacher who really put her heart and soul into her students. I started with watercolors because it was the easiest medium, and while I was taking classes I started selling my works in my teacher’s studio. So, that made me think I was doing something right.

I always did art on the side because I was also finishing a business degree at the time and didn’t know when I would be able to come to the U.S. But one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had sold quite a few works in a span of 8 years. One of the best things for me was that my father was always supportive of my creative pursuits. He didn’t want me to do it full time because it is tough living, but he wasn’t like the traditional Asian father… he said I should make art as much as I wanted to on the side.

FWD.us: Is there a difference in how art is perceived here in the Bay Area than in Pakistan?

Khilnani: The Bay Area is supposed to be one of the richest areas in the nation. And yet, being a professional artist here is one of the hardest things to do because I think that most people don’t invest in art as much as they could and getting into galleries out here is much tougher. Sometimes it is difficult to explain to [people here] the importance of art in their lives. Not sure who is to be blamed for it: lack of interest or lack of art education. Back home I was way more successful because I was operating under a totally different art sale model. I got representation in galleries at a very early stage of my art career because galleries back home carried a larger portfolio of artists, from upcoming to established artists at different price levels. So to answer your question, my art was perceived much more favorably back home than in the Bay Area, until recently.

Click here to join us on June 11th for our Immigrant Heritage Month celebration: The Art of Immigration at Wix Lounge in San Francisco.

Visit Rajiv Khilnani website here for more information about his work.