Asian in America: Chef Jenny Dorsey

Jenny Dorsey is a professional chef and artist with a special focus on experimental culinary content and experiences with emerging technology. Her background is in fine dining; she worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in both NYC and SF before launching her own consulting business, co-founding popular dinner series Wednesdays NYC, and finding her niche with food and tech. Jenny and her food has been featured on Food Network (winning Beat Bobby Flay in 2016), Oxygen TV, Harper’s Bazaar, Brit+Co, Huffington Post, Bustle, and more. She is also Founder and Creative Director for not-for-profit production studio, Studio ATAO

Asian in America is a symbolic 6-course meal that explores the complex narrative of the Asian American identity through food and drink, virtual reality, spoken word performance, and poetry. It debuted in partnership with Studio ATAO at the Museum of Food & Drink (MOFAD) on August 15th. Half of the courses were presented with poetry, while the other half were recreated in virtual reality and accompanied by spoken word performance. All the ingredients and cooking techniques had been carefully chosen to have double meanings, which the guests discovered throughout the meal. The final course utilized augmented reality to display the recreation of the dish alongside poetry, with the image target being a physical illustration of the dish itself.

How did your creation of this food narrative transform into a multi-sensory experience project?

When I first started the series, I honestly had no idea it would turn into a full-scale exhibit / event. As you know, I started off with a video series with LUCKYRICE paired with short written essays on Medium, which then turned into a longer written series for Hyphen Magazine. A fellow Asian in VR donated the first Tilt Brush piece when I was debating pursuing the idea of fusing the two mediums together, and that helped catapult the whole thing into a food + VR immersive project (which now also has AR and poetry). I’ve been really touched by the amount of personal outreach I’ve received since this project started from fellow Asian-Americans who felt this project brought to light aspects of their heritage and daily lives most media (even media tailored for the Asian-American experience) seem to gloss over. But even more surprising to me was the amount of feedback I received from non-Asians who were genuinely shocked by what “Asians go through” living in this country, and noted they have become more aware of the “little things” since interacting with some pieces of the work especially in a food setting. There’s so much implicit cultural hierarchy in the way we talk about food, teach food, consume food in this country, yet it’s only beginning to be addressed as an imbalance.

These dishes are personal reflections of the experiences you encountered as an Asian-American in the US. If you had to describe yourself today through food, what would your dish look like? Or is this meal an accurate representation of you?

This meal highlights a lot of the pieces of my identity I find very important. The ultimate realization — and the message I want to put forth — is that the Asian-American identity is complicated. There is no piece that is just good, or just bad. I do believe things happen for a reason, and even the moments where I felt the most embarrassment or anger or shame I’ve realized that was necessary to help me better understand myself and how I can reach deeper into my stories to make art.

Which dish was the easiest to conceptualize and which was the most difficult?

“Model Minority” came really naturally to me — it’s probably the ‘easiest’ to understand because the maze is quite literal and the veal sweetbreads just fit so perfectly as a parallel narrative. I think “Saviors” was really hard for me to actually make, partially because I was afraid to take a stance against some of the really outspoken and dominant male chefs of my industry, but also because I wanted to strike a balance between hard-hitting and ironically amusing.

Was your audience able to break free from misconceptions and stereotypes through the combinations and meanings behind your dishes?

I can’t answer for them definitively, but we’ve received some really positive feedback about the event and many guests stayed behind to watch the videos a few more times, so I think that’s a really positive sign.

Tell us more about taking “Asian in America” on the road.

As this project has evolved, my goal has become more focused on bringing this piece to a more diverse set of audiences. While NYC is a wonderful (and welcoming!) market, I’d like to eventually take this project across North America to cities that may not have as much of an Asian-American presence. To be realistic, I’m starting with institutions and areas that would be most receptive to the project (I’m in talks with a museum in Montreal, will also be reaching out to Wing Luke in Seattle, Asian Art Museum in SF, Chinese American Museum in LA, etc.) to gain some momentum before tackling more ‘liberal’ cities without Asian-specific museums such as Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, then moving into cities with limited Asian presence like Kansas City, Omaha, and Reno. Maybe one day, I could take this to Asia so they understand what it feels like to live as a minority across the world. “Asian in America” on the road as a traveling exhibition across the U.S. and Canada.

If you’re interested in hosting “Asian in America” for an exhibition at your gallery, museum or event space contact hello@studioatao.org