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tv   Witness  LINKTV  April 13, 2022 1:00pm-1:31pm PDT

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man, voice-over: here at kato restaurant, we try to use a lot of ingredientshat are highly prized in chinese/taiwanese culture. we try and see if we can change what certain perception of what luxury is. when i grew up, it was simply "we're going to this place becae they have good food that reminds me of my home, and i nt my kids to try it," but now it's like, "wow! i didn't know you grew up in san gabriel. i get it. you like this, i like this, too." it creates a conversation, and maybe one day, this food equates to fine dining elsewhere.
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[theme music playing] [boiling teakettle whistles] [birds chirping] [stove clicking] [both speaking foreign language] man, voice-over: food was pretty important for my family, in terms of just celebration, and my parents always worked late, but i just remember when they came home, my mom made it a point--"i'm gonna make a full dinner, and we're all gonna sit down and eat and talk." my grandma from my mom's side, she would come often when i was
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younger, just 'cause my parents worked so much, and then she would kinda take care of me and, like, make me snacks, but she didn't grow up cooking, and my mom didn't grow up cooking, either, so their cooking styles were really unique. they really just saw something and they were like, "yeah, literally, let's try to make it," so i think that definitely adds to how i make food here, too, because a lot of what my mom makes, i'm like, "whoa, like, how do you make this?" 'cause i haven't tasted it elsewhere, either, so sometimes when i make something here, and then, like, a taiwanese person or a chinese person will, like, "what is this? you're saying it's one thing, but i've never had this before." and i will call her and i'll be like, "you tricked me now. this is--this is something you made up." growing up in san gabriel you have a lot of access to a lot of different cultures--korean food and all sorts of chinese food, szechuan food, hunan food. woman: me and jon knew each other when we were in high school. i really enjoy the fact that you can kind of get that vibe of the san gabriel valley out here and, like, introduce it to new people that never experienced that when they
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were growing up. jon: technically, we're in west l.a. my parents leased this out to do a small business and it didn't pan out, and then we took it over. [indistinct chatter] woman: so this is going to be a kind of our spinoff of a really traditional taiwanese dish called three-cup chicken. uh, three-cup abalone instead, and we have that with a bit of lime basil on the top and then [indisnct] strings to finish. enjoy. nikki: so a lot of people that come in and eat, it's either a "ratatouille" moment for them or it's something completely new. [fan flapping] jon: the re-occurring theme was seafood. we're doing a lot of asian-style fish dishes, and then we tried doing steamed fish. we basically did just a smaller version of my mom's steamed fish, and i was like,
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"man, this is so simple." i don't know if this hits the same way it does for me. a lot of diners were kind of expressing the same things. th were ke, "oh, this is so homey." it wasn't just other asian-americans. everybody that had that dish was like, "i really don't get it, but it's just so comforting." and i thought that if we can convey that feeling through one dish, that we should try doing it with others. it was during that period of time where we really put our foot down and said, "well, we should really try and champion our heritage and really see what we can do." man: do you have any [indistinct]? woman: did that one seem like-- oh. fire two no-salt to run? jon: sure will. andy wang: jon has really sharpened the focus of kato in the time that he's had it. if you're somebody who, like me, is taiwanese-american, it will start evoking these childhood
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memories because he will do the fancy, fine-dining version of things that you've eaten a lot, you know, in terms of the flavor and the texture, but presenting it in a different light. if you've been eating in chinese restaurants around america, and you've eaten the fried pork chop or you've eaten minced pork rice or you've eaten the beef noodle soup, you've eaten taiwanese food. jon: taiwan is an island. there's waves of immigration. my grandparents from both sides of the family are from different places, so it's just a huge amalgamation of a lot of different things. and then, when you take that and you move it to america, you're dealing with a whole new thing because every time a cuisine comes to america, it's a different set of local produce and local taste. andy: there's a sense of identity that's very important to taiwanese people, for they want to self-declare that they're taiwanese. at the same time, you talk to somebody like jon yao or you even talk to my parents, and you realize so many
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things that i like to eat, like to cook, of course they're rooted in china because that's what happened with migration pattern. jon is also just really good at making comfort foods, and it tastes familiar, but also like this thing that's brand-new. jon: our honey-walnut shrimp is--[chuckles]--our version of a panda express honey-walnut shrimp, and i love panda express. the hot plates with just an assortment of food and then you get rice, it's huge in taiwan. andy: i think taiwanese food is absolutely ready for the spotlight. people are already embracing the flavors. it's just time for people sort of to, you know, even explain to you, "you are eating taiwanese food." jon: i grew up in walnut. it's the easternmost city in the san gabriel valley. susie hsiuhan ling: the san gabriel valley is the epicenter of huaqiao. "huaqiao" means
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"chinese outside of china." what i think a lot of people don't undersnd is los angeles had many chinatowns. the old chinatown was called "calle de los negros" and got destrod when union stationas bui in 1938, '39. so a loof us call what is between broadway and hill "new chinatown" because in the970s, there was an asian-american movement, and a lot of chinese-americans and asian-americans came out to try and improve chinatown, but anyone who was making it and being able to, were moving to the 'burbs, ok, and that included monterey park, alhambra, san gabriel. san gabriel valley is only 10 minutes from chinatown, and it was a bedroom community. chinese today want 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 2-car garage, and you were not gonna find that
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in downtown l.a. anymore. and so then became this slow migration of mandarin-speaking chinese at first into the san gabriel valley. at some point, monterey park was about 60%, 70% asian, with 3 chinese, i think, on the city cncil. it earned the name of "little taipei." jon: my parents came over when they were, i think, 25. they came to america, had nothing, and then my mom would tell me stories like, "yeah, like, we would get just meat scraps and then ask them to grind it at the market," and then they would just make whatever out of it. mr. yao: when we can, you know, it's hard to buy tofu. you had-- you had to spend a...yeah, it's much, much more expensive than right now. at that time, really, it--it's a treat when you eat the tofu. susie: in the 1970s, if you
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wanted chinese food--and, god, i need my chinese food, right? if you wanted a sauce, you--you want your fish sauce, if you want your garlic black bean sauce,ou had to go find itt a little chinatown market. you didn't know what was going on, and then yee sing chong was established in chinatown. this was a supermarket with a fish section. jon: my mom would steam fish. she would steam live tilapia 'cause eating fresh fish is really big in the chinese community, so she would get live tilapia from the market and she'd steam it at home. and i actually don't know when she started doing this, but she would start steaming it in the microwave, and me and my dad always laughed at my mom for doing it. my mom's like, "what? i can steam a whole fish in, like, 7 minutes." and it tastes exactly the same. it tastes great. 'cause usually you would do this in a steamer. [jon speaks foreign language] [mrs. yao speaking
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foreign language] jon: yeah. she microwaves it because sometimes the fish-- 'cause she gets the fish live from the markets, but if it's too big, it won't fit in the steamer, so then just put it in the microwave. [mrs. yao speaking foreign language] jon: it's also faster. it's, like, 5 minutes, yeah. [mrs. yao speaks foreign language] [microwave beeps, whirring] [beep] jon: the pleasure of eating that steamed fish is to have it whole because having fish cooked on the bone is way different; like, less surface area exposed to heat and it's also just juicy when it's attached to the actual rack. so it's hard to re-create that, but the process is you steam the fish and then you drop a bunch of scallion, ginger on it and then you take really hot oil and then you scorch all the scallions and ginger, and then you pour the soy mixture,
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and all the steaming liquid, aromatic oil on the bottom mixes with the soy, and it just makes essentially a pan sauce, but in--in the vessel, and then you just top it with cilantro, and it's really good. and it's really light, it's not overly salty, it's just very clean fish flavor, and my favorite thing was, like, mixing it all into a bowl of rice and just... destroying it, you know. oh, this is good. ha ha ha! [mrs. yao speaking foreign language] jon: this is good, yeah. voice-over: our version, it's obviously impossible to do a whole fish per person, so we just do all the steps, a then we do it in, like, a single portion, so, right now, we're using loup de mer. we cure the loup de mer, clean the bones, and we make a bone tea, mix, basically, a bunch of differt rice wines, a bunch of differe soys, and we'll make the sauce and then we'll make a ginger and tokyo negi relish and then we'll wrap it in fresh kohlrabi, steam
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that. we make a scallion powder here that we season with our kelp salt, and then we'll dust it over the fish. the sauce is basically that seasoned fish tea, and then we'll dress it with a little scallion oil and then just pour it tableside. [indistinct chatter] mei lin: i met jon 6 years ago. our styles and our approach to cuisine is very similar, and so that's kind of how we gravitated towards each other. he's just such a smart cook. we love going to sgv to gain a lot of inspiration, but also, it's just the familiarity of what we grew up eating. it comes from san gabriel valley. jon: we're going to huge tree right now for some taiwanese breakfast. this is a good place
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to start 'cause they open early. mei: carbo load. jon: carbo load before the carb load. [mei giggles] jon: i--i like showing people this place because i feel like, if you haven't been to taiwan, you definitely haven't had taiwanese breakfast like this. i always get this, no matter what. mei: i know-- jon: it's something you eat at home. mei: yeah. jon: it's called dan bing. it's, like, a egg crêpe. mei: what's inside? jon: i think it's just eggs and scallion. mei: that's awesome. i love that. jon: this is, uh, luo bo gao. mei: i think this, being breakfast, we definitely have to pace ourselves 'cause it's literally all carbs. jon: yeah. mei: after the fan tuan, you're gonna hit a wall. jon: i'm not gonna--there's no way. i'm crushing this. mmm! i haven't had one in so long. it's, like, sweet and salty and then there's crispy, and then there's egg. mei: i love the--the doughnut in there. jon: yeah. the you tiao, yeah. mei: i mean, usually, like, we would eat, uh, you tiao with... with congee in the morning.
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i'm really excited that you introduced me to this place because, growing up in dearborn, like, we never got anything like this. jon: you know how, like, you hear podcasts about, like, asian chefs, like, "oh, like, i got made fun of eating kimchee" or whatever as a kid? mei: yeah. jon: i think i took for granted that i never--like, i didn't get traumatized like that. mei: you didn't? jon: no. mei: wow. the first time i brought, like, seaweed soup in a trmos... jon: uh-huh. mei: to lunch, someone saw, like, just the strand of seaweed just coming out of the thermos and they're like, "eww! what are you eating?!" and i literally, like, just froze and, like, put it away, and that was it. i'm like-- jon: but how old were you? mei: i was--i was in sond grade. i mean, i feel like that's much more appreciated now than it was back when-- jon: everyone's much more accepting now, but that's the part i like about los angeles, more tolerant and willing to lot explore past their boundaries. mei: yeah. jon: people like doing food
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crawls in san gabriel because, you know, like, everything's pretty compact and there's not much traffic, so if you want to get from city to city, it's only a matter of minutes. mei: yeah. jon: and there's almost a good restaurant on, like, every block, pretty much. we're gonna go to meet fresh for, um, shaved ice and asian desserts. mei: when'd you first experience boba? jon: like, third or fourth grade. mei: wow. really? jon: yeah. mei: i actually experienced it right at the beginning of college. jon: oh, my god. mei: yeah. ha ha! that was the first time i had bubble tea. we called it bubble tea in the midwest. i mean, it wasn't until i moved out to california that boba shops were just everywhere. jon: chinese people love wn things are, like--like, chewy. mei: yeah, yeah. jon: bet you would say that's you, yeah? mei: yeah, yeah. jon: it's, like, chew with a certain amount of give to it. like, it bounces back maybe just, like, halfway. like, texture is big in chinese food
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more so than, like, in western food. mei: the sweet potato balls are, like, perfect. jon: mmm! we basically make a version of the potato ball at kato, but we use a different type of yam, but it's basically the same thing. mei: mm-hmm. jon: it's just, like, a chewy potato ball, and tn we soak it in syrup, too, because when you make--well, in taiwan, they soak it in... mei: yeah, like, in brown sugar. jon: like, in a brown-sugar syrup, yeah. jon: the sablé was basically a combination of a lot of taiwanese desserts. it's boba, shaved ice, and roasted yam. when you're growing up, you kind of take these things for granted, and you just take it as, like, a norm. when we make that boba dish, we're just putting together flavors you know, right? like, what does this texture remind you of? at does this remind you of? and it just comes together because that's always gonna be my reference point--my growing up, like, what i craved.
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man: hey, chef. jon: good to see you. man: welcome, welcome, welcome. jon: thank you for having me. man: yeah. good to have you jon: my working relationship with aaron is it's always been through text, email, phone call, and i hadn't met him until he came down to eat. but i--i had some inkling that maybe it was, like, a family business or something, but when we went down to san marcos to visit girl & dug farm--[chuckles]--i didn't know it was gonna be so huge. aaron: we farm about 94 acres, specializing in hard-to-find produce varieties, everything from heirloom varieties to making our own selections, and also breeding our own seeds, and we exist to serve the best chefs in findining. jon: we use aaron's garlic chive blossoms. they're a little intense, but aaron's version especially is really sweet, and then, when you bite into it, you still get the garlic chive flavor. we really like putting
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that raw because it's--it's striking to look at, but, like, when you bite into it, it's--and if you had garlic chive, you don't expect that flavor. we just found more and more things we'd like, and obviously his stuff is, like, almost, like, micro-seasonal. aaron: i really enjoy working with chef jon at kato because the weirder things we grow, the more excited he gets, and so it doesn't matter that we have something with hyper-seasonal micro-availability that we don't know if we're gonna have enough of, but he's gonna use it for the short period that we have it because he's all about flavor and "where is this comg from and how is it developed?" and he creates something out of the produce that's available, as opposed to completely the other way around. jon: i mean, you see a lot of restaurants doing, like, novel things just to take a picture, but when you have a cilantro flower or a garlic chive blossom from aaron's, it's, like, the best version you've ever had, you know, like, not really a garnish. you're putting it in for flavor.
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oh, my god. it's so soft. [chuckles] i didn't think it was gonna be that soft. this is likeating a fruit. i've never had a tomato this sweet before, 100%. [slurps] that's a really good one. aaron: yeah. jon: it's so, like, concentrated in flavor. the acidity's perfect and it's so savory, too. aaron: yeah. that's actually not even fully ripe. jon: yeah. aaron: so when they're fully ripe, they'll have the red stripes in addition to the green and the purples and the blues. jon, voice-over: in the beginning, we worked with girl & dug in a pretty limited capacity. as we've gone on to be more familiar with his collection of things, and now, like, when we have a dish, we'll say, like, "oh, aaron's blah-blah-blah would go great on this," and then we'll start ordering. but now, yeah, girl-- like, we need our girl & dug order on tuesday, otherwise we're pretty screwed for the rest of the week.
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aaron: it's really important to me personally to preserve a lot of the asian varieties we have. so, in my case, having grown up korean-american, this stuff here: the sesame leaves, something that's near and dear to my heart; tokyo negi is another big one; minari, which is essentially japanese/korean parsley is anoer big one; chrysanthemum leaf and garlic chives. these are all things that i grew up eating like it's a normal part of my meal and yet, now, having come into specialty produce and having seen a lot of not just acceptance, but an embracing of a lot of this stuff, i--i feel that it's even more important, not only to forge the identity of girl & dug as not just specialty asian vegetables, but specialty everything. what i grew up with is specialty to one culture. that means that there's a ton of other foods out there that's native to other cuures. sesame leaf, tokyo
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negi, and these other greens are only representative of the overarching direction and path of where we're going with sharing everything that's under the sun, and thereby being able to learn a little bit more about both the region and the people to where these vegetables are native to. jon: so, after the michelin ceremony, i was with my dad and mei, and then we came straight to bistro na's. we just called all the staff and we came straight to bistro na's. i like bistro na's because they do really high-level chinese food. [sizzling] [indistinct chatter] mei: hi! man: hi, guys. man 2: hi. jon: hi. what a surprise. woman: hi. jon: hi. hi, hi, hi, hi. mei: how are you guys? woman: good. how are you?
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mei: hi. woman: hi. hug. mei: hi. jon: oh, that's really good. this is really good, too. i love this restaurant. we come up--my parents like it, too, so we come a lot. mei: i mean, we're all like family, so, you know, we've-- we've gone out to eat quite a few times, and bistro na's was our first outing together. in every single town, i think chefs can tend to be pretty cliquey, but i think it's really important to be friends with everybody and kind of seeing other chefs' perspectives. ryan bailey: everybody in l.a., you have this, like, mixture of different cultures, and everybody identifies differently with different things. we did a 13-course menu for a charity event way back when, and there was wine, there was sake, there was cocktails, there was mezcal, you know, there was everything and it kinda was just fun to see
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what everybody was receptive to, and it kinda speaks a little bit to, also, l.a. jon: for sure. they're more tolerant. they're more willing to take on other people's perspective. woman: yeah. jon: even though people have different perceptions of value, at least, in l.a., you'll kind of try and understand where the other person's coming from. woman: yeah. and, like, we're surrounded by, like, other venturous, like, people who really want to learn more about the background of the food and not just the "oh, it was yummy," you know? so, like, all my friends or pple around me are ke, "i can't book kato" or "i can't book brandon's, like, hayato." like, we want to go there and not just, like, fill up and eat, but we want to, like, experience and learn something, rather than just, like, eating. brandon go: yeah, more than sustenance. kuniko: yeah. brandon: when i opened my restaurant, you know, my dad was ncerned. he was like, "i don't kn if american people are prepared to eat, you know, this kind of food. it's not been done before." but he didn't have the same concern when he opened a sushi bar in 1980. people thought you are gonna get sick from eating raw fish, you know?
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and when i started making sushi, nobody was eating uni. a lot of the stuff was just sitting in the showcase, we had became mainstream and, to me, it was, like, the next logical step. after i got used to all that stuff, i wanted to know what else is there for japanese food. jon: i mean, it's still not fully formed, like, whatever taanese-american food is, but i hope that it comes to a point where it's met with an open mind as mucas japanese food; like americans just place more value on it, that it's graded on the same scale that maybe, like, french or italian food is, and that's what we all strive towards, right, having a higher view of our food? andy: what if the future is actually like this, and there could be restaurants that just serve this version of this kind of food, meaning the taiwanese-american food that a lot of us grew up on? jon: so i feel like what we're doing is--i don't want to say unique. it's just different. we're cooking food from my personal childhood.
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someone's perception of you is not necessarily a reflection of you, but of themselves, so they're projecting their judgments, like, what they think that cuisine should be. you're cooking this food and you're unintentionally saying something, but i think, at the end of the day, what i want to convey is, like, how i grew up, you know, and i didn't promise that that's going to align with your childhood. i'm just trying to connect with you through our food as a medium, right? there's no, like, objective taiwanese-american food. like, we grew up differently, so it-- it's hard to tell people that, you know. [dishes clank] andy: i think the future of asian-american food in l.a., especially if chefs like jon get their way, is that it just represents something close to the spectrum, meaning that you can go get your fast, casual bowl of a pork chop over rice, and then you can also ball out
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in maybe the best tasting menu in the city, and you can sort of have everything in bween. jon: it's easy to be idealistic about things, but it's hard to actually do it. having the intention, the willingness to at least take the first step, i's a good start. [theme music playing]
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(upbeat music) - right on the corner of broadway and ord, in chinatown, los angeles. i've beecomingere sie the 70s. later in le, i hadhe oprtunity open a resta, whicis rht in th plaza right the called f easplaza. - you and chego were the first high profile celebrity chef to come in. - ery ti i gave inrview, i wod say thgs like 's a ndown wahouse district no one les there i fe like wee doing mething o. i walkedn, i wasike, thiis it opened up,razy.


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