By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 24, 2014
I’m excited to announce that “The Search for General Tso”, a documentary that I have been working on with director Ian Cheney, is going to be premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival. This is a long project in the making. It’s been four years since I first met Ian Cheney and Cur
“Search” has three showings: April 19 at 3:30 p.m., April 20 at 3 p.m. and April 24 at 9 p.m.
As Ian Hollander writes in the official film guide:
From New York City to the farmlands of the Midwest, there are around 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. While there can be quite a range of Chinese-American dishes, one in particular seems to have conquered the American culinary landscape with a force befitting its military moniker—“General Tso’s Chicken.” Walk into any Chinese restaurant in the country and you can be fairly certain you’ll be rewarded with a plate of this sweet and sticky fried chicken—seemingly just spicy enough for the American palate. But how did this dish reach such levels of ubiquity and who was General Tso in the first place? This delightfully insightful documentary seeks to uncover the origins of a dish that Americans have warmly adopted as their own. As director Ian Cheney journeys to Shanghai and Hunan, it becomes increasingly clear that the answers lie much closer to home, as the story of General Tso’s Chicken becomes inextricably linked to the story of Chinese Americans’ own search to define their identity.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 30, 2013
Narayan Venkatasubramanyan (that’s an awesome last name) sent me a link to a popular Indian company called Ching’s Secret, which sells Chinese dishes to prepare at home, including Schezwan dishes.
In English we spelled ?? as Szechwan or Szechuan, now Sichuan in pingyin. But in Indian the spelling went a bit awry. As he explains it,
When the taste of that province was introduced in India, some Indian decided that it was silly to add a “z” after an “s”, decided it was some horrible misspelling, and “corrected” the spelling to the more logical-looking “Schezwan.” and then proceeded to pronounce it as it was written. these days, India is full of restaurants with menus with “Schezwan sauce” and diners who loudly demand the “authentic” shay-zwan flavour.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 23, 2013
The Los Angeles Times has a feature on David Chan (@chandavkl)who has eaten in over 6,000 Chinese restaurants, and has a ginormous Excel spreadsheet to prove it. Though his list starts in 1955, which is decades before spreadsheets were even invented.
The coolest part is the time-step map over the years, which plots all the restaurants in the Los Angeles area he has eaten at. It which is made possible because he has kept such meticulous records (including the addresses). Data visualization + Chinese restaurants. One of my favorites.
I’m going to guess I might have eaten in Chinese restaurants in more countries than he has, but he certainly wins on the sheer numbers.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 4, 2012
Hakkasan, the London-based luxury Chinese chain I went to for my book, opened up a New York City location.
It’s high end. The New York space is 11,000 square feet and seats 200.
Most entrees are $22 to $88. But one dish is $888 for Japanese abalone with black truffle.
It’s located in Times Square, 311 West 43rd Street, (212) 776-1818.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 16, 2012
MSG now regrets putting up a graphic of Jeremy Lin’s head over the broken fortune cookie. Almost inevitable. But still, I think someone must have thought this was a good idea. And no one thought maybe it wasn’t. On television is the strangest part.Â
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 18, 2012
The New York Times Magazine has a piece byÂ Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubenstein on how Chinese takeout boxes are uniquely American (Chinese takeout boxes are all but unknown in China)Â My favorite fact that they dug up:
On Nov. 13, 1894, in Chicago, the inventor Frederick Weeks Wilcox patented a version of what he called a â€œpaper pail,â€ which was a single piece of paper, creased into segments and folded into a (more or less) leakproof container secured with a dainty wire handle on top.
Impressed that they dug that up. In my research, I did not stumble across that fun, fun fact.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 26, 2011
I stopped by the American history museum of the Smithsonian and was superexcited to see three objects that I have encountered in my research were now on exhibit and part of the museum’s permanent collection
The kata grills from Gary Ono, which were used to make superearly fortune cookies in the Japanese Tea Garden in the San Francisco Golden Gate Park.
What could be the oldest American fortune cookies still in existence (50 years old!), an unopened can of “fortune tea cakes” from Hong Kong Noodle in Los Angeles, donated by Merlin Lowe, and a hat to go with it.
Here is the little museumy write up that went below it, that makes it superreal.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 26, 2011
I spoke at the National Archives today. That’s right, the same building as Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence! It was part of the “What’s Cooking? Uncle Sam” exhibit, which examines the federal government’s impact on the American diet.
And the little sign for the talk.
Update: The chief of research offered to pull up the Chinese Exclusion Act next time I’m in town. How cool is that?
By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 1, 2011
By Jennifer 8. Lee | August 2, 2011
This is amazing. General Tso’s nachos. He’s gone south of the border.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 13, 2011
I got these certificates in the mail yesterday. Superfun.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 7, 2011
Sent to me by David Lefer.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 1, 2011
I got a lovely note from an Asian American studies professor at UCLA. It’s exciting to think of the book as a “staple.”
I am writing to say how much my students and I enjoy your wonderful book. Â It has become a staple reading in a seminar I teach on Asian American history through foodways. Â From your fortune-cookie detective work to the mysteries of General Tso’s chicken, to the plight of Chinese restaurant families and deliverymen, your book helps readers to think more deeply about things we take for granted. Your interwoven exploration of second-generation issues particularly resonates for many students who are the children of immigrants and refugees.
Hope your writing and food adventures are going well! Â Looking forward to your next project.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 20, 2011
More update. To sign up for announcements of future food tours, sign up below
Update! I’m adding an additional tour on April 3, at 2 p.m. Meet at 215 Centre Street inside the lobby of the Museum of Chinese in America. Donate $88 to the workshop atÂ aaww.org/donate and forward the receipt to jenny[at]jennifer8lee[dot]com with a note if you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions.
I’m doing a walking tour of New York City Chinatown street food as part of the Kickstarter fundraiser for the Asian American Writers Workshop last fall. Itâ€™s a ~2.5 hour tour that includes (depending on availability) Xiâ€™an Famous Foods, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Xinjiang skewers, banh mi, pulled noodles and more. It’s an $88 donation to the workshop.
Must be willing to share portions. Please wear comfortable shoes. Meet Saturday, April 2 at 2 p.m. in front of the Chinatown’s Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre Street. There is also possibility of adding April 3 if there is enough demand. Food costs included in the tour.
Donate $88 to the workshop at aaww.org/donate and forward the receipt to jenny[at]jennifer8lee[dot]com witha note if you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions. Also say if you prefer April 2 or 3 (We’re not sure about April 3 yet)
By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 16, 2011
My friend, Barbara Martinez, alerted me to the fact that my appearance on Martha Stewart inspired her to create the baby booties. (click on the booties, annoying that they don’t have an individual link to each finalist.)
Here is what she writes (she got the middle initial wrong, but whatevs).
Oregon City, OR
I came up with my ReMarthable idea when I was watching the Martha Stewart Show a couple years ago when Jennifer B.Lee was on explaining the origins of fortune cookies. I make Japanese inspired crafts, sushi baby booties, and sushi ornaments. I wanted to keep with the Japanese theme, so when I heard on the show that fortune cookies originated in Japan, a light clicked on and Fortune cookie booties were born! They are made from a simple kimono style pattern, very easy to demonstrate. The fortunes are made from printable canvas, I have made these from brown re-purposed sweaters or fleece. I also make adult sizes.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 10, 2011
The Smithsonianâ€™s National Museum of American History is presenting a Chinese American display, Sweet & Sour, opening March 17, 2011 (two days after my birthday!) in the lobby. I helped a bit with linking them together with the items, including the original Japanese kata that were used to grill some of the first fortune cookies in America.
The project brings together many Chinese restaurant-related objects ranging from menus, restaurant signs, and cooking tools. Well worth a stop! The museum is located at 4th Street and Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004.
More from the Voice of America.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 22, 2011
By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 19, 2011
By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 17, 2011
According to Swiss Miss, it is built from a single sheet of plywood. While it looks fragile, it’s actually incredibly stable, thanks to the clever weight distribution achieved via a specifically shaped contact area with the floor.
It probably wasn’t purposely fortune cookie shaped, but the resemblance reminds us just how elegant the fortune cookie shape is.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 18, 2011
It’s actually not bad, carby overload, with cool crispy and grainy and
sauce texture. It’s arguably the most popular Irish-Chinese dish. Best
when you are drunk from beer, I’ve been told.
Best description when they called it “Chinese poutine.”
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 11, 2011
Grand Central Publishing today abruptly announced that Cary Goldstein, publicist extraordinaire and deputy publisher, is going to take over as publisher of Twelve, effective immediately (their website changed quickly enough).
This is covered by The New York Times, the Associated Press, Publishers Weekly. Cary recently signed a two-book deal with Christopher Hitchens, who was diagnosed with esophagus cancer â€”Â which is a real coup as Hitchens did not move over to Simon & Schuster with Jon Karp (awesome editor). Hitchens, of course, gave Twelve its first long-running number one New York Times best seller, God is not Great.
Here is the email we got
I am writing to let you know about changes being made in the management of Twelve. Susan Lehman will be leaving the imprint and Cary Goldstein will be taking over the role of Publisher. While I realize that change is hard, and that there have certainly been significant changes at Twelve over the past months, the elevation of Cary to Publisher speaks to the continuity of the imprint, as Cary has been a pillar from the start. More than that, Cary has been the mastermind behind many of Twelveâ€™s most notable successes, and is fully committed (passionate would be an even more apt word) to the imprintâ€™s unique publishing philosophy, and its success.
Details are included in the attached press release.
And the attached press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sophie Cottrell
212-364-1281 / Sophie.firstname.lastname@example.org
CARY GOLDSTEIN NAMED PUBLISHER OF TWELVE
(January 11, 2011 / New York) â€“ Jamie Raab, EVP and Publisher of Grand Central Publishing, announced today that Cary Goldstein will be assuming the position of Publisher of Twelve, replacing Susan Lehman.
As Associate Publisher of Twelve, Goldstein has been responsible for orchestrating the imprintâ€™s publicity strategies, and acquiring and editing works of fiction and nonfiction. â€œCary has been part of Twelve since its inception, and has truly been one of the pillars of the imprint,â€ said Raab. â€œHeâ€™s a brilliant marketing strategist, a very fine editor with a keen eye for acquisitions, and, most importantly, has a real vision for the future of Twelve. He created enormously successful campaigns for Ted Kennedyâ€™s TRUE COMPASS and Sebastian Jungerâ€™s WAR â€“ and these are just two of many. Caryâ€™s commitment to Twelveâ€™s books and authors is extraordinary, and I look forward to seeing him thrive in his new role as he shapes Twelveâ€™s publishing program and guides the imprint to continued success and acclaim.â€
â€œSusan Lehman is an extremely insightful, creative and talented editor,â€ Raab said. â€œUnfortunately, the role of Publisher just wasnâ€™t the perfect fit.â€
Twelve was launched in 2007 with a unique approach â€“ to publish no more than one book per month â€“ and the results of this intense focus have been remarkable: Twelve has published 43 titles, 20 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, including god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and True Compass by the late Senator Ted Kennedy (both of which reached the #1 slot), and Christopher Buckleyâ€™s novel Boomsday. Other recent bestsellers include the aforementioned War by Sebastian Junger, as well as Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, and The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.
At Twelve Goldstein has edited Jess Winfieldâ€™s My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare, a New York Times Book Review â€œEditorâ€™s Choiceâ€; Jerry Weintraubâ€™s memoir When I Stop Talking, Youâ€™ll Know Iâ€™m Dead, which was a New York Times bestseller; and Benjamin Haleâ€™s forthcoming debut novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and IndieNext pick for February 2011. Most recently, Goldstein negotiated a two-book deal with Christopher Hitchens for a collection of essays entitled Arguably, scheduled for publication in September 2011, and a book-length meditation on â€œmalady and mortality,â€ chronicling Hitchensâ€™ ongoing ordeal with esophageal cancer.
Prior to joining Twelve in July 2006, Goldstein was the Associate Director of Publicity and Director of Web Publicity at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where he began his career as an intern in 1996. He has also been senior publicist at Basic Books, Director of National Poetry Month for The Academy of American Poets, and buyer and features editor responsible for Fiction, Literature, and Poetry at BarnesandNoble.com.
Goldsteinâ€™s role is effective immediately. New additions to Twelveâ€™s staff will be announced shortly.
Tracking Chinese restaurants, chop suey and fortune cookies over the last two centuries via Google books
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 9, 2011
This ngram is a broad metric of the concepts in Google books, and the dates generally track with my research: "chop suey" jumping around 1896, "fortune cookies" surging after World War II, and "Chinese restaurants" making an appearance in 1860, around the beginnings of the first waves of Chinese immigration. Â " Notice how "Chinese restaurants" continue to Â go up even as "chop suey" falls.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 9, 2011
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 7, 2011
Every day for a year, a writer, Matt Kelsey, is going to follow the advice of a fortune cookie and play the lucky numbers, to see if it really will make a difference.
Here is his press release, which I was fascinated by in part because it’s on the Kansas City Star website. Sort of like user-generated, but not. Wonder if they charge or not. Great way to engage a community. Allowing them to send put press releases on the major newspaper web site.
Local writer to follow fortune cookie advice for one year
Everyone has cracked open a fortune cookie at the end of a Chinese food meal. But few people these days actually heed the advice given on the tiny paper fortune.
For one calendar year, freelance writer Matt Kelsey is going to do exactly that.
Starting on Saturday, January 1, 2011, Kelsey is going to open one fortune cookie each day and follow the whims of the fortune. Additionally, he will also purchase a $1 lottery ticket using the lucky numbers on the back of each dayâ€™s fortune.
Through his new blog, My Daily Fortune, Kelsey will chronicle his fortune cookie adventures. The blog can be found at www.mydailyfortune.blogspot.com.
â€œThis is a personal growth project for me, but I also believe others can benefit from what I learn,â€ Kelsey said. â€œThe fortunes found inside cookies are usually basic and simple, but oftentimes those nuggets of wisdom are the most profound.â€
Readers of My Daily Fortune can track Kelseyâ€™s daily updates and even follow the fortunes in their own lives.
â€œI think it would be terrific if people could actually participate in the project by leaving comments on their own experiences,â€ Kelsey said.
In addition to checking out the project at www.mydailyfortune.blogspot.com, readers can also follow Kelseyâ€™s Twitter (@matt_kelsey) and Facebook updates.
It looks like he will already be a featured in an article in the Kansas City Star, so there is some luck there. Maybe there is a book out of it.
By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 7, 2011
Help bring General Tso and his chickens to a theater near you!
I am co-producing a feature-length documentary on American Chinese food with the Peabody-award winning team behind King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, called “The Search for General Tso.” We think it’s a great way to bring my research to a larger audience in an engaging and informative way.
And it’s not just us who think that! We got a $40,000 matching developing grant [pdf]Â from the extremely competitive National Endowment for the Humanities. We need your help. We have a few weeks to unlockÂ $13,000+ of that grant. (All the paperwork is due in February). Your donations are tax deductible since it’s a non-profit. Our fiscal sponsor is Arts Engine.
That NEH grant, along with generous seed donations, actually helped fund our trip to Taipei to interview the chef who invented General Tso’s chicken, C.K. Peng, last month. Chef Peng is 93, so this was an extremely important interview to do ASAP. And it was hilarious. I just finished translating the interview with the editor this week.
This picture below is a very intense filming of General Tso’s chicken at Chef Peng’s restaurant, Peng’s Agora Garden.
The NEH reviewers gave our proposal extremely high ratings.
This initial development money will get us a long way to creating a trailer, which is then used to raise more serious funding â€” ideally well into the six-figures (or beyond).
Watch my talk on TED.com from Taste3 below to get a flavor of the quirky tone of our documentary, which is backed up with extensive research.
And yes, as you can see from my video/research General Tso is a real guy. He’s a Qing Dynasty military hero from Hunan province whose Chinese name is Zuo Zongtang (å·¦å®—æ£ ). Zuo is roughly pronounced â€˜juoh.â€™ Here is a picture of him below from a billboard outside his hometown.
And yes, there were a lot of chicken in that town.
So to show our appreciation. If you donate $88 and above, you can join in on a walking tour of Chinatown street food I am doing in New York City on March 5 and 6. If you donate $150 and above, I will send you a signed copy of my book along with a hand-selected Wonton Food fortune (this is where the famed winning Powerball fortunes came from). At $500 and above, I’ll send you a book and a real authentic Japanese fortune cookie, which I just brought back from Kyoto. If you donate over $2,000, I’ll come and do a talk anywhere in the United States, schedule permitting and travel costs covered. If you want any of these, you must email me at jenny8lee[at]fortunecookiechronicles[at]com
And for the super-ambitious, at $10,000, you get an IMDb listing as a producer! And if you want to be a executive producer (with names on posters and all that), you can donate $100,000 â€” but don’t do it through credit card, email curt[at]wickedelicate[dot]com (yes, that’s one ‘d’ in Wicked Delicate website. The one with two d’s is a Japanese puppy site)
Email me at jenny8lee[at]fortunecookiechronicles[dot]com for questions, comments, jokes.
You can enter your donation below, which will take you to Arts Engine system (the fiscal sponsor). Or you can enter directly on the Arts Engine page. The General and his chickens thank you!