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Monday, August 15, 2022

A Soup that Reminds You of Being Back at Home for the Holidays

When it comes to residential projects, Michael Chen is most well-known for them, and one feature of those projects that he really likes creating is the kitchen. Michael K Chen Architecture, his namesake firm in New York City, remodelled a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighbourhood in 2019, and the result was maroon cabinets, an avocado green island with a sink on one side and a cutout for four stools on the other, so that a cook could prep while conversing, and tumbling-block-patterned concrete floor tiles. As for other features, he likes green serpentine stone (“I believe a white kitchen is so dull,” he adds), inconspicuous power outlets, and induction burners in place of gas ranges (“if it’s good enough for Thomas Keller…”). According to Chen, 46, “there is frequently a genuine contradiction in people’s expectations when it comes to kitchens between beautiful things and things that are useful,” but “I don’t view those attributes as being in opposition to one another.” In addition to his architectural background, his idea that a place can and should be both comes from his experience as a chef, as well as from his interest in kitchens in general. As a result, he is well-versed in anticipating the demands of his clients in this area.

Andy Beck’s kitchen, complete with a stone counter, a Flos light fixture by Jasper Morrison, and an abundance of walnut cutting boards and Japanese knives, is the focal point of their Chinatown, Manhattan, apartment, which they share with his husband, Andy Beck, who works as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. Chen’s apartment was the site of countless dinner parties where he could demonstrate his culinary abilities and, because “acquisition is a bit of an occupational hazard in my line of work,” the many beautiful dishes he’s collected over the years, including asymmetrical ceramics by Eric Bonnin from Mociun in Brooklyn, vintage chartreuse Russel Wright lug bowls scored on eBay, and marbleized plates from MK Studio purchased on a trip he and B took to Japan. However, even if such events were put on hold by the epidemic, Chen could still be seen in the kitchen, tending to his sourdough starter or making out pasta dough for handmade lasagna in the early days of the outbreak. Later, in December, he decided to attempt another time-consuming recipe: his mother’s beef noodle soup. He succeeded admirably.

The meal, known in Mandarin as niu rou mian, is widespread in Taiwan, where many mainlanders, including Chen’s parents, Robert and Grace Chen, fled after the Communist revolution of the 1940s. Chen’s mother, Grace Chen, is a native of Taiwan. Because of this, many of the regional features of different noodle soups mixed, resulting in what Chen characterises as a “mishmash of flavours and textures.” “It’s like Taipei’s response to a hot dog,” says the author.

However, despite the fact that his parents were enjoying the same street cuisine in Taiwan in the 1950s, they did not meet until they were graduate students in Florida in the late 1960s, when they were both living in Florida. It was during this time that the Chen family relocated to Contra Costa County, which is located just east of San Francisco, and it was there that Chen learned to appreciate the dish, or at least the version of it that his mother adapted in accordance with the health-conscious culinary traditions of Northern California. According to Chen, “there’s a certain leanness to the way our family prepares.” This is less hot and greasy than what you’d get in a restaurant, yet it’s more concentrated and clearer than what you’d buy at a supermarket. However, Chen’s mother would cook the meal every year for Christmas Day lunch, and the whole family would converge on the home to partake in the festivities.

Allow the sealed jar to sit out at room temperature for at least one day before allowing it to ferment in the refrigerator for 3-5 days before using. Use within a week after opening the package.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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