Bonus CWT episode with Fuchsia Dunlop

Here is the transcript and audio, and wonderful photos, over a Chinese meal at Mama Chang in Fairfax, run by the famous Peter Chang.  I am not acting as lead interviewer, so this is more like a “Conversation with Tyler chiming in,” nonetheless numerous D.C. area food luminaries are present, as are other members of the Cowen family.  Here is one brief excerpt:

T. COWEN: You learned Chinese food in China, of course, much of it in Sichuan province, Hunan province. As Chinese teach food, how is the method of education and training different from, say, Great Britain or the United States?

DUNLOP: Well, I haven’t been to culinary school in Great Britain or the United States, so I’m not sure.

T. COWEN: You’ve been to school in these countries.

DUNLOP: The first thing is that when you go to cooking school, you are learning the building blocks of a cuisine, which is like the grammar of a language. So the basic components, the basic processes and flavors, which you then put together to make a multitude of dishes.

Whereas, I guess, if you were studying French cuisine, you will learn some classic sauces, a bit of knife work, techniques of pastry making. In China, in Sichuan, absolutely fundamental was dao gong (刀工), the knife skills.

[Lydia] CHANG: I actually have a story to share about Dad’s cutting knife. He said when he first started learning, in school, there’s only limited time, but he wants to really excel at it. So he returned back to the dorm, started cutting, using cleaver to cut newspaper to practice.

Some of you will like this a lot, but don’t expect a normal CWT episode.  And here is Fuchsia’s wonderful new book The Food of Sichuan, a significantly updated new edition of the old.


Is that a picture of Sichuan food? It looks like it could be from another province.

Wuhan street snack! Check out the episode.

It's humbling to imagine the years of knife-skill training that allowed that chef to cut that one big squarish blob into four smaller squarish blobs *just so.*

{chef's kiss!}

Quality comment, this cracked me up.

Sichuan is the spicy food, right? The one type of Chinese food I don't like.

Yelp only finds one restaurant in the whole LA-OC region with "Gan bian hua cai." I'll have to put it on my list:

Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechuan Restaurant

And of course it would be at Jeffry and the 5. I've eaten at half a dozen places in that little shopping center. Infamous. An ex-cop told me that triads handled things and the police were never called. Maybe that was just a story but it adds to the mystique.

Actually, I think I've eaten there. Had the dry fried beans, maybe the cauliflower wasn't such a thing ... this would have been a few years ago. Assuming same owner etc. It was good food.

This will be an unusually difficult conversation. Dunlop is an extraordinarily self-absorbed and self-centered person. All of her books are more about her than about the food she purports to write about, really quite annoying. She is a big whiner too. The book launch piece in the FT included a lunch at which she ordered steamed fish with ginger & scallion (totally cantonese) and also mapo tofu (entirely szechuan). Huh??

I've only read her first book but she is far from a whiner. In fact I was struck by her resilience and good humor in her account of living in China. Trust me, I was in Chengdu around the same time as her in the mid 1990s and most foreigners never let up whining. And if you want just the food then get one of her cook books.

I remember two stories in the NYT about 20 years ago.

One was about a female head of surgery who complained that, although she worked 100 hours a week, she was not as respected as she would be if she were a male who worked that many hours. That was what the writer wanted us to take from the story ---

A few months later, a different story, a different writer, same NYT (which used to be a good newspaper, believe it or not). It was about a surgeon who, for years, spent several hours every weekend performing appendectomies on rats in order to perfect skills that would be relevant when performing surgeries on humans. In addition, of course, to all the other hours of work .....

Tyler, you lucky bastard.

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