For more than fifty years San Francisco’s Bay Area is considered to be North America’s epicurean kingdom – long before the term Silicon Valley entered into our lexicon and made it a technology-based realm. With American Wine Country, Napa and Sonoma, sitting at the back door along with Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry, Charles Phan’s Slanted Door, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustard Grill and Fog City Diner leading the culinary pack, it’s also created and ushered some of the country’s best wordsmiths and journalists in the world of food and wine. Michael Bauer, John Birdsall, Amy Sherman, Marcia Gagliardi, Harvey Steinman all stand at M.F.K Fisher’s door including winning awards from the famed epicurean organization James Beard. However, for almost two decades, James Beard award-winner Carolyn Jung, the former food editor at San Jose Mercury News, and sole proprietor of FoodGal.com, have put on a different face to the Northern Californian dining scene. Residing outside the kingdom’s walls in the San Jose area, although born and raised in the City by The Bay – Jung’s writing’s on the area’s food scene is full of knowledge and has made her one of the pre-eminent voices in the national culinary circle . FoodGal is read far outside Northern California with readers international in scope. She is also one of the area’s non- Caucasian food media which we discussed at length after she posted an article from First We Feast about the lack of diversity in food writing.
A true San Franciscan, Jung was born at Clay and Polk to Chinese parents. She was then raised in Diamond Heights, near Twin Peaks where the roads are all named after gemstones. Jung has been at the forefront of San Francisco’s cookery explosion reporting first-hand on its continued national influence including visiting my client, at the time, The Restaurant at Meadowood when it received its second star Michelin star under Chef Christopher Kostow.
Before becoming the food editor at San Jose Mercury News, which she refers to as “the Merc”, her beat was on race and demographics. She says about the transition to food writer, “In a great way, my previous beat allowed me to transition seamlessly into the food one. There were so many times on my former beat where I’d start to report on a story, and community leaders would always say, ‘Let’s go eat first.’ Food has always been important around the discussion of community. It may be a cliche, but breaking bread with someone really is the ultimate icebreaker.”
After she was laid off in 2008 from San Jose’s leading newspaper, she craved an avenue to continue communicating with the readers she carefully cultivated, hence FoodGal.com which has nearly a hundred thousand unique visitors per month. It’s where Jung continues to use her journalistic reporting on the area she loves so much and the epicurean people and foodstuff within. When asked if she ever considered leaving, she responded, “I had several opportunities before I left the newspaper but I wanted to stay. My parents lived here. I’ve also love working the Bay Area and its diversity. We start the food trends – although New Yorkers might disagree.”
Jung is also a gifted emcee hosting many events throughout the Bay Area including many of the Macy’s cooking demos in Santa Clara as well as in San Francisco.
She just completed for the fourth year Chefs’ Holidays at Yosemite’s luxury Ahwanhee Hotel. Upcoming, Jung will be at Macy’s on February 10th with Pastry Chef, Christy Ikezi.
Her cookbook on her hometown San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City by The Bay is available at leading retailers and online. Her stories have also appeared in San Francisco Chronicle, VIA and Eating Well.
Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):
What is your favorite food to cook at home? Does baking cookies count? It is my favorite thing to make. In fact, there are times when I get so stressed with deadlines that I think, “I must go bake some cookies right now — or else!” It’s my relaxation; and my vice.
What do you always have in your fridge at home? Condiments of all kinds — I love them. Cheese; fresh seasonal fruit; good jam; and a jar of preserved Meyer lemons (I make them every winter with lemons from my dwarf tree).
What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Good conversationalist, great sense of humor, and a willingness to try most anything at least once.
What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Talking about themselves non-stop, taking no interest in the other people they are dining with, and staring at their cell phone constantly.
Beer, wine or cocktail? I like all three. But I am partial to a creative and balanced cocktail, followed by wine — if someone else is driving me back home.
Your favorite cookbook author? My friend Andrea Nguyen, because she is so meticulous with her recipes, and we share a love for perfect dumplings. Joanne Chang and Emily Luchetti because their baking recipes never disappoint. Bruce Aidells because he is the authority on meat. Jean-Georges Vongerichten because he is as renowned and sophisticated a chef as there is, yet he can actually write recipes that won’t make your head spin, teach you practical techniques you may not have known before, and create distinctive, flavorful dishes that one can actually make at home.
Your favorite kitchen tool? My Le Creuset Dutch oven. In fall, winter and spring, it gets a real workout, as I use it for all manner of soups, stews and braises. Not to mention, it’s a looker in dazzling blue.
Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Most anything. That’s the fun part about getting so many cookbooks to try — you get to learn about so many different cuisines and cultures. And of course, the baking books are always the ones I look at first.
Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’m going to have to go with pork because it’s such an important part of my Chinese heritage. Plus, pork is so versatile. And let’s face it, so delicious, too.
Favorite vegetable? I would like to say heirloom tomatoes, but that’s a fruit, despite what most people think. So, I’ll go with asparagus. I look forward to its appearance every spring, then go crazy buying it every week at the farmers market, until its season comes to an end all too quickly. I like it especially grilled or roasted, which brings out its natural sweetness.
Chef you most admire? There are so many. I give them so much credit for how hard they work, the endless hours they put in, cooking on the line, on weekends and holidays, and missing so much family time. I admire Thomas Keller for being a class act, and always pursuing perfection; Jamie Oliver for shining a light on childhood obesity; and Jose Andres for working to get solar ovens in third-world countries, where young women are often accosted, beaten or raped while trying to gather firewood for their families.
Food you like the most to eat? Have I mentioned cookies? OK, well, there’s also my obsession with kouign-amanns. Basically, if I could eat pastries morning, noon and night — without any consequences — I would.
Food you dislike the most? I’ll try anything once. But I must say after having natto once, I probably don’t need to have it again.
What is your favorite non-food thing to do? Exercise (heck, I do have to burn all the calories I consume); read a good book for hours on end (a luxury I rarely have time for, unfortunately, except when I’m on a long plane ride); treat myself to a spa day (yeah, that happens about once every five years); catch up on movies with my husband; hang out with friends and family (though, that most often does involve food in some shape or form); and watch “American Ninja Warrior” (yes, I’ll cop to that).
Who do you most admire in food? Farmers, who are so dedicated, don’t make a whole lot of money in return, and have to put up with the uncertainties of Mother Nature year in and year out. Without the work they do, our lives would be a whole lot less delicious, nutritious, and full of wonderment.
Where is your favorite place to eat? It can be a fancy restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall, or even my own home — as long as the company is delightful, the food prepared with care and love, and the vibe comfortable, relaxing, and stimulating.
What is your favorite restaurant? Depends on my mood, craving, and thickness of my wallet on any given day. I could pick The French Laundry because I’ve had several memorable meals there, and my husband actually proposed to me in the parking lot there. I could choose Yank Sing because I adore its dim sum, and I held my wedding banquet there. I could say Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine” lab, because I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually dine there. Or I could pick the Honolulu bare-bones, plate-lunch spot, Nico’s Pier 38, where chilly and bleary-eyed after getting up at the crack of dawn to tour the Honolulu Fish Auction, I ate a simple ahi omelet made with fresh fish from that auction, while sitting outside as the sun came up on a glorious Hawaii morning.
Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? None. My Mom never would have approved of that.
Carolyn Jung’s Recipe:
I chose this dish because it’s nearly Chinese New Year’s. It’s also a dish that reminds me of the type of comforting, satisfying food my Mom used to cook when I was growing up. I’d pick the crispy noodles out of the pan with my fingers, as she’d shoo me away. When it was finally ready, my brothers and I would line up at the stove to help ourselves to a tangle of noodles, and sit down to a bowl of joy.
Crispy Noodles with X.O. Chicken & Bok Choy
For the marinade:
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1∕8 teaspoon ground white pepper
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons chicken broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon X.O. sauce (available in jars at Asian markets)
1 teaspoon chili bean sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
For the rest of the dish:
8 ounces fresh, thin Chinese egg noodles
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 fresh hot red chili, thinly sliced
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, caps only, sliced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise
To make the marinade: Combine the rice wine, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and stir to coat evenly. Let stand for 10 minutes.
To make the sauce: Combine the broth, soy sauce, rice wine, X.O. sauce, chili bean sauce, and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
To cook the noodles: In a large pot of boiling water, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water, and drain again.
Place a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Spread the noodles in the pan and press lightly to make a firm cake. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the noodle pancake over, add 1 more tablespoon oil around the edges of the pan, and cook until second side is golden brown, 3–4 minutes. Remove to a serving plate and keep warm.
Place a stir-fry pan over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, swirling to coat sides. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to a small bowl and set aside.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan over high heat, swirling to coat the sides. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and cook for 1 minute. Add the sauce and bring it to a boil. Add the bok choy, cover, and cook for 1 minute.
Return the chicken to pan and stir to heat through. Pour on top of the noodle pancake and serve immediately.
Recipe Courtesy of San Francisco Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City by the Bay by Carolyn Jung. Photo by Craig Lee.
The end. Go eat.