Excitement permeated the air as food lovers and CAAM community members gathered Saturday evening to celebrate the third annual CAAMFeast Awards in San Francisco. This year’s ceremony showcased the evolution of Chinese food in the United States, with each of the honorees representing a distinct generation of Chinese American achievement and skill in the kitchen. The event, hosted at the sleek One Kearny Club, presented guests the opportunity to mingle over some of the Bay Area’s top food and drink offerings.
The honorees this year included the legendary Cecilia Chiang, godmother of Chinese cuisine and former owner of the famed San Francisco restaurant The Mandarin; George Chen, accomplished chef, restaurateur and founder of China Live and Eight Tables; and Brandon Jew, local foods leader and executive chef and owner the soon to be opened Mister Jiu’s.
As the event began, attendees were eager to dig in to the array of offerings including handcrafted cocktails and elegant bites provided by Socola Chocolatier, Hodo Soy, Lers Ros, Hakkasan, Rémy Martin, Boba Guys, Modernist, Attic, Straight Up Bar & Beverage, among others.
Attic restaurant owner and chef Tim Luym, one of last year’s CAAMFeast honorees, brought his A-game serving heirloom kalinga unoy and brown rice arroz caldo served with chicken, quail eggs, and chicharones. He also curated a selection of Filipino fish sauces. “CAAM is great to work with,” Luym expressed as we talked about his longtime support and collaboration with the nonprofit. Boba Guys co-founder Andrew Chau echoed this thought: “I am so glad we finally got to work with CAAM. Our values and CAAM’s align.”
CAAMFeast underlines CAAM’s mission to present and convey the diversity and richness of Asian American stories. While media and film are central to this work, so to is food. Throughout the evening, guests could be heard sharing stories with one another about food’s importance in shaping and influencing narratives about identity.
As the night moved on, the Master of Ceremonies and Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist Alan Wang ushered guests in to the main room. Wang discussed the lack of representation for Asian Americans in mainstream media and how his story and struggle with Hepatitis B, as chronicled in the film BE ABOUT IT, will be showing at this year’s CAAMFest.
With anticipation building, the time to present the awards drew closer. The lights dimmed and short CAAM-produced video vignettes featuring interviews with the honorees and an overview of their respective careers played across a large screen. Afterward, CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong joined the stage to hand out the awards. Accepting hers first, Cecilia Chiang received a standing ovation before sharing the succinct but profound words, “I am glad that I came to San Francisco and I am glad that I got rid of chop suey!” George Chen, unable to attend, sent along a video of his thanks for the award and an echo of the sentiment heard many times throughout the night, “I can only hope to follow in Cecilia Chang’s footsteps.” His award was received on his behalf by Cynthia Wong-Chen, his wife and China Live co-founder. Lastly Brandon Jew, receiving the Trailblazer Award, took the stage and joked that though honored, “A Chinese guy opening a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown is not that trailblazing.” Amid laughter, he continued on to explain that with Mister Jiu’s he is however “excited to try something new.”
An energetic live auction sent some of the attendees home with future trips and meals to look forward to. Auction item highlights included a 19-course prix-fixe dinner and wine pairing at Benu; a travel package to Chicago courtesy of Southwest Airlines and dinner for two at Chicago’s Sunda; and two original limited edition, signed and framed Tyrus Wong prints.
All proceeds from the night will support CAAM’s legacy and future as the nation’s leading Asian American media arts organization committed to telling the stories of our communities.