March 15th @ CAAMFest + Grace Lee + "Off the Menu: Asian America"

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The new Grace Lee film, an hour long documentary where Lee travels across the U.S. in search of the intersection between food and APIA communities will have its premiere at the Castro on March 15th (2:20pm to be exact) and I hope that all of you who can go, do go.

Because it looks great (and I'm hoping someone will steal a copy for me, or at least send me some shaky HEVC video).

Here's a little more from the release:


In the one-­‐hour documentary, Lee travels from Houston, Texas to New York’s Lower East Side, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin to Oahu, Hawaii seeking stories that reflect an evolving Asian Pacific America and the role food plays in peoples’ lives. “We wanted to find unexpected stories that embodied the Asian American experience,” Lee said. “Asian America is already such a vast, complex, and contested idea. Focusing on food was a way to explore the deeper connections of culture, family, and ideas of authenticity and adaptation that link us all.” "KQED is deeply committed to independent films and filmmakers and we are proud to partner with CAAM to highlight the work of such a talented and unique filmmaker like Grace Lee," said Michael Isip, KQED’s chief content officer and co-­‐executive producer of the film. "Off the Menu brings audiences closer to Asian American culture through something we can all appreciate: food. Grace takes us on a cultural journey with thoughtful observations of how Asian traditions around the preparation, sharing and creation of meals can bring people and communities together."

In Houston, Lee meets two entrepreneurial food pioneers: third-­‐generation Japanese American Glen Gondo of Gondo Co., dubbed “the sushi king of Texas” and Gary Chiu, whose family-­‐run factory, Banyan Foods, has been providing tofu throughout Texas since 1978. Over the decades that their businesses have grown, they have re-­‐defined Asian staples like sushi and tofu into uniquely Asian American dishes that cater to the Texan palate, offering items like sushi rolls with deep fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and spicy crab and Asian Tex-­‐Mex fusion with tofu tamales.

In New York’s Lower East Side, French-­‐trained chef Jonathan Wu and his business partner Wilson Tang open Fung Tu, a modern Chinese restaurant based on family stories and recipes as well as Wu’s desire to cook food that was personal to his upbringing. Wu applies classic French techniques to ingredients more familiar to Chinese cooking, resulting in menu items that he says have “an authenticity of spirit.”

Just south of Milwaukee, a growing immigrant community at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin participate in langar, a centuries-­‐old practice that shows how the making and sharing of a meal can feed a community spiritually. The temple made headlines in 2012 when a gunman killed six people and wounded many others during a racially motivated shooting spree. Temple members tell the story of how the people who were preparing the meal that morning continue with this tradition, and how langar became an essential part of the healing process for this tight-­‐knit community.

Finally, Off the Menu travels to Hawai’i, the only state in the US where Asian Pacific Islanders make up the majority, to explore how native Hawaiians are working to make their food system sustainable. On an island where most food is imported, Hi’ilei Kawelo is is dedicated to preserving her family’s tradition of fishing for octopus, but it is her commitment to restoring an 800-­‐year-­‐old fishpond that will resurrect a long lost Hawaiian practice. Neglected in the last 100 years, Kawelo’s organization has rebuilt an 88-­‐acre pond designed to grow fish for the community. Across the island, young adults work the land at MA’O Organic Farm, the largest on the island. Cheryse Sana, the farm co-­‐manager, along with other young people working the fields express how they’re following in the footsteps of their ancestors who took care of the land, in hopes that the land would take care of and provide for them. “So many times, people associate food with Asian or Asian American culture. With Off the Menu, I hope we can expand the conversation to explore our stories as well,” Lee said.

CAAM has created a robust companion website,, that delves into these Asian American food stories and beyond, including interviews, essays, articles, recipes, cooking tips, and videos.

Director  Lee  and  producer  Eurie  Chung  will  attend  the  premiere and will be available for questions.