There's something to special about surrounding yourself with strong women. The air smells fresher. The vibes are just different. It feels like home, even when you are surrounded by strangers. That's what I felt at Haejin Chun's Big Bad Queens dinner, hosted at the stunning Four One Nine community studio in downtown San Francisco. I arrived early and was lucky to be able to take in the beauty of the space. Guests began to trickle in, everyone dressed to impress. It was comfortable though. I felt like a friend in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Everyone was just so happy to see each other, to celebrate each other and appreciate each other.
Along with a badass women chef behind the counter, the event also highlighted other women owned brands making waves in their own way. The Garden Society provided pre-rolls for guests to enjoy while we mingled and dined. Elevated Jane added style and elegance to the tables with their smoking accessories. Libations came in the form of a traditional Korean rice-based beer by Makku. The taste was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Creamy and sweet but light and refreshing. The dinner was infused with Wellfounded Botanicals THC tincture, which is flavored with pomegranate syrup and absolutely delicious on its own.
The first course was served outside as we prepared to settle in for the evening. Puffed rice topped with kimichi bacon compote, cured egg yolk and microgreens. Titled Did You Eat? Haejin reminds us that this is one of ultimate expressions of love. As a first generation kid myself, this sentiment resonates deeply. My family came to this country in the early 60's, they settled in the Napa Valley to work in the wine industry. Some of my aunts and uncles had to leave their parents behind. Coming from a tiny little ranch in Northern Mexico, my family was already very close. Cousins were more like siblings, and my grandmother acted as mother to them here in the states. On any given day there would be upwards of 10 people gathered around her dining room table at lunch. She would make fideos, refried beans, chile verde and her famous 'sopa loca' which was something like a soupy mac and cheese made with monterey jack, penne pasta and chicken stock. A true visionary she was, adapting to the ingredients that were available to her here. At the end of the day, that's how she knew she could make a difference here. She didn't speak English, she had little advice to give in a world that was new to her, but she could always make sure you had something to eat.
Once it came time for dinner we eagerly made our way to the dining room. I found my place at the table and started looking at the menu, growing more hungry with each second. The meal began with an epic sound bath by AstraLogik, a Bay Area based Queer Pinay dou, followed by some eloquent words by Haejin. She explained that each dish would be paired with a piece of spoken word where she would tell us a piece of her story and how it connected to that particular dish. I have always felt that cooking is one of the most honest forms of expression. She literally put herself on a plate, it was truly an honor to be there.
Humble Beginnings: Then & Now
burrata whipped potatoes, caviar beurre blanc, 24k gold leaf.
This dish was an homage to her grandmother, a woman who loved potatoes. A humble root vegetable, a staple in any working class home. Something that satisfied not only the tummy, but the soul as well. Topped with 24k because even a potato, and those who survive off them, deserve their flowers. The potatoes were hearty yet light, whipped to perfection and contrasted perfectly with the briny beurre blanc sauce. I was reminded of a dish I had at La Marea Alta in Barcelona years ago, a plate of parmesan whipped mashed potatoes topped with uni. Seafood, cheese and potatoes, it sounds like an odd pairing but trust me - it works.
Bridging The Gap & Growing Up Too Fast
black sesame bini with cured salmon, shiso-yuzu creme fraiche
There is a responsibility on the shoulders of first generation kids to bridge the gap between their parents and the world around them. We are told a story of a little girl who carried that weight and who couldn't understand why there were things that seemed to be just out her reach. Like pancakes. The perfectly cured salmon, crispy red onion and tangy creme fraiche made for the perfect bite. I ate as slow as I could, savoring each bite. Imagining the joy that little girl felt when she was finally able to make pancakes with her grandparents.
steamed egg custard with dungeness crab
We all have that dish that reminds us of home. Something warm and comforting that you can toss together without a second thought. For Haejin, this is it. I had never had egg custard but add dungeness crab to anything and I am in. It was one of the dishes where you felt compelled to pick the bowl up and hold it up to your chest. Like for some reason the food and your mouth need to be as close they can be. It was light yet rich, something you could eat your weight in. The definition of comfort food.
jook - porridge with spot prawns
One of my favorite dishes of the night was inspired by a time when Haejin's mother was sick. Seeing her mother hurting sparked the caretaker in her and this was a dish she would often make her. I love prawns, especially served head on like these were. The soft porridge and perfectly cooked prawns came together to make a hearty and savory bite. Finished with the slurp of the head, nothing better.
The Life You Are Born With vs. The Life You Chose
ddukboki - rice cakes with umami stewed pork, mozzarella
a textre Conceptually, this dish was one of the most fun. This dish represented the breaking of generation traumas, living unapologetically, being non-traditional and giving two fucks what anyone else thinks. This dish was full of salty, savory, porky goodness. Paired with gooey melted cheese and chewy dumplings made with rice flour, similar to mochi. Another pure form of expression, the dish screams originality.
I Love You, But Fuck The Patriarchy
samgyetang - chicken roulade with sticky rice, kabocha, jujubee, black truffle pine nut purée
This dish was an homage to her grandfather, a man who laughed in the face of feminism. Although the patriarchy permeates all aspects of society, I think immigrant families can struggle with it a little bit more. Being raised in the United States means that will undoubtedly see things differently than those who raised you, and that can cause conflict. Especially when you are the type of person who will not compromise their values for anyone. Still, the dish was beautiful. Savory in rustic and earthy way, delicately balanced with a punch of tangy jujubee.
Becoming: Choosing Yourself Over and Over Again
miso strawberry cheesecake, pecan crumble
The sentiment behind this sweet, umami packed dessert was accepting that, regardless of what anyone says, Haejin is a chef. She has created a name for herself in a way that truly sets her apart from the rest. This dinner was unlike any meal I have ever experienced. The way everything was so well executed and so carefully thought out. The way the music and the spoken word gave context to the meal in such an elegant way. Truly a work of art.
I have been working in kitchen since my early 20's and to this day, I still don't know what it means to be a chef. All I know is that feeding people makes me the most happy. For so many of the reasons shared in Haejin's story. When you have to focus on survival and assimilation, there are certain familial aspects that can become compromised. As immigrants and kids of immigrants, sometimes the only thing we can all agree on is what to have for dinner. Sometimes that's all you need to see past your differences. As we grow, we find ways embrace our culture and express it in our own way. I certainly know that I have struggled with my identity as a Mexican-American. As the type of person who like to get tattoos and piercings that my parents can't stand. As a cannabis user who was demonized by my family and called a 'bad influence.' Look at us now. I am beyond grateful to be able to live in a time and a place where we can gather and share these stories. So we can feel a little less alone and little more free to be ourselves. I am blessed to know such talented individuals that not only inspire me, but leave me in awe. Never stop being a Big Bad Queen.
stoneyxochi. 30 year old California native. proud pothead, Mexicana and woman.