Tableside egg fried rice at Fang in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Lance Yamamoto)
Growing up in one of San Francisco’s Chinese food destinations wasn’t always easy. For Kathy Fang, daughter of House of Nanking founders Peter and Lily Fang, it meant a lot of late nights — but nothing could replace being surrounded by the sights and smells of Shanghai-style home cooking.
“My parents came here with less than $40 in their pocket and the first place they stepped into was Chinatown. Ever since then, Chinatown has always been our home,” Kathy said. “We literally spend more time at House of Nanking than we do at home.”
From left, Kathy Fang and Peter Fang inside Fang restaurant; little Kathy; and Peter Fang with daughter Kathy Fang outside of House of Nanking. (Photo by Lance Yamamoto; Couresty of Fang)
Since opening the restaurant at 919 Kearny in 1988, the Fang family name has become highly respected in the city’s storied food scene. Kathy not only ended up joining the family restaurant business, but she’s carved her own path in the culinary world.
On Food Network, Fang has made many appearances across popular cooking competitions such as “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and “Alex vs. America.” She’s also a two-time “Chopped” champion.
Clockwise from center, vegetable dumplings, pork spring rolls, fried rice, spicy wonton soup, Nanking golden egg pockets and sesame chicken at House of Nanking. (Photo courtesy of Fang)
Now, Kathy and her parents are anticipating the premiere of their very own Food Network show, “Chef Dynasty: House of Fang,” airing Tuesday, Dec. 27, at 9 p.m. It’s also streaming on Discovery+. The six-episode docuseries follows Peter and Kathy’s father-daughter relationship as they operate as chefs and co-owners of the family’s second restaurant, Fang, at 660 Howard St. Kathy said the show also focuses on her push to modernize the restaurant and further expand the Fang name.
“The core of the show is the dynamic that I have with my dad and the story of how all of this came to be. Not just for people who are Asian, but any immigrant family who saw their parents toil,” Kathy said. “People, they may look at me, and they may think, ‘Oh, she’s American-born Chinese. Totally westernized. Very American.’ But, I’m like, very, very traditional, even in the relationship with my dad.” …
Published with SFGateon December 20, 2022. Read the full story here.
SFGATE food editor Steph Rodriguez spoke with the decorated chef about his hard TV persona, SF street food and feeling the burn on ‘Hot Ones’
By Steph Rodriguez
Gordon Ramsay doesn’t mince words. He runs a restaurant; Fox runs a TV show. The globally recognized celebrity chef and restaurateur was quick to point out the difference while sitting across from me in a private dining area inside his Hell’s Kitchen Lake Tahoe restaurant on a snow-kissed fall afternoon, just days before his 56th birthday.
“‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is a boot camp. If you imagine, 25 chefs coming in to look for an amazing job, a great platform, a quarter of a million dollars as a prize — I run a restaurant,” he said. “When we go live with those reservations, it’s real: 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 9:45 tables are real. The menu, the inspiration, the specials, the prep — it’s all real.”
Ramsay was in town for a special dinner event, a housewarming party where Tahoe locals and city government officials were invited to celebrate the restaurant’s success since it first opened in January 2020, then on the brink of the pandemic.
Still, it didn’t stop 12,000 reservations from pouring in when the opening was announced in December 2019.
And if my experience at dinner service the night prior was any indication, it seemed like Hell’s Kitchen Lake Tahoe inside Harveys casino was firing on all burners. This event was Ramsay’s first time visiting the restaurant since it opened, and Hell’s Kitchen waitstaff were busy straightening and resetting the dining area before they welcomed guests for an evening with the celebrated chef.
As far as his candid, fire-breathing persona, which made him famous across decades of television shows aired in both the U.K. and the U.S., the British chef added that it’s also very real. He pointed out, however, that viewers watch a mere 46-minute cut of what occurred in a 24-hour period while he and the cheftestants film the “Hell’s Kitchen” reality cooking competition.
“I have to present the extreme. When I get down to that one team in the black jackets, and we’re down to the final six, five, four chefs — that’s when the competition starts to take on a completely new level, and it gets really exciting for me seeing that young talent,” he said. “And then, they get good. They get very good. And then, one of them gets an amazing prize. Christina Wilson’s a prime example of keeping your head down and focusing. It’s more than a TV show.” …
Published with SFGate November 15, 2022. Read the full story here, where chef Ramsay talks about his favorite San Francisco foods and enduring spicy wings during his appearance on the YouTube talk show “Hot Ones.”
If you’ve ever prepped onions and veg in the wee hours of the morning for the day’s lunch rush, if you’ve ever been yelled at by the dishwasher for not peeling the labels off the cambros before they hit the sinks, if you’ve ever dropped a tray full of freshly baked cookies in front of customers and the business owner on your first day, then FX/Hulu’s buzzy new show, “The Bear,” will slap you right back into the thick of those suppressed memories.
“The Bear” depicts a young chef, with an extensive fine dining background, who abruptly returns home to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop following the tragic death of someone close to him. It’s a show filled with all the thorny, relatable moments most back-of-the-house staff experience and it’s a refreshingly honest depiction of what goes on behind the scenes to bring customers their favorite sandwich or blue plate special.
I speak from experience as someone who toiled as a cook and dishwasher at small, independently run eateries — with questionable ethics and paperthin budgets — in Sacramento. Needless to say, not all of my experiences as a woman of color working in the restaurant industry were ones that I was ready to revisit. Yet, I binged the entire show in two days.
For Bay Area chefs, “The Bear” brought up feelings of anxiety, so much so that many admitted to turning the show off and walking away. (Variety calls it “one of the most stressful shows,” while the Atlantic said it was “the antithesis of comfort TV.”) At the same time, they’d find themselves returning to find out whether or not its leading character, Carmy, played by Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless”), could truly turn the beloved Chicago sandwich shop with its hard-knock kitchen crew around.
After watching the first episode, chef-owner of All Good Pizza, Cafe Alma and Tato, Kristin Houk, said the patriarchal elements of the show’s kitchen were all too familiar.
“I think that they’ve captured the chaos of a kitchen, for sure,” Houk said. “Just the intense, intense pressure, and for me, as a woman, I always felt there was a lot of sexism in the kitchen as well, and a lot of really shitty behavior, quite frankly.” …
Published with SFGate July 15, 2022. Read full story here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing actress Danielle Moné Truitt, who stars as Sgt. Ayanna Bell in the new NBC drama series Law & Order: Organized Crime, opposite Christopher Meloni and Dylan McDermott. Did you know she’s from Sacramento? Not only is Truitt from the River City, but she gives credit to the B Street Theatre for her professional theater start. She splits time between New York and Los Angeles these days, worked with the iconic John Singleton and even gave a Disney princess her likeness. I spoke to Truitt about some of her favorite memories growing up in Sacramento visit my Arts&Culture Features’ section to see more.
When Sacramento comedy clubs could no longer host audiences indoors during all of last year’s uncertainties, venue owners and the comedians who fill their rooms continued to do what they do best: make people laugh.
Much like with distance learning and working from home, comedy went virtual with live stand-up, sketch and improv shows hosted through online platforms such as Zoom and YouTube Live or popular streaming services like Twitch. Comedians quickly adapted and embraced new ways to reach audiences across different mediums, all to connect through laughter.
And while some venue owners and comedians predict virtual comedy shows will continue as a new way to access live comedy, many anticipate more opportunities for outdoor stand-up showcases and an increase of indoor events as entertainment restrictions continue to loosen across the country.
Laughing From Home
For longtime stand-up comedians like Ngaio Bealum, who’s made a career out of making people laugh for nearly 35 years, how comedy is delivered and how it’s received will continue to evolve with the times. But whatever the format, Bealum says he’s ready to show up and share jokes.
“One of the cool things about online comedy shows that I love is that if you want to do a show with your homies, you don’t have to fly everybody from L.A. or Seattle to Chicago or wherever,” Bealum says. “You just call them up and be like, ‘Brah, are you busy today?’”
Bealum transitioned to hosting online comedy shows early last spring through the all-digital venue Nowhere Comedy Club, founded by comedians Steve Hofstetter and Ben Gleib. With travel logistics no longer a burden, Bealum organized monthly virtual stand-up shows that featured a healthy blend of Sacramento comedians like Becky Lynn and Wendy M. Lewis with national headliners such as Margaret Cho, Brian Posehn and Greg Proops.
“The thing about an online comedy show is you get the response, but it’s not as visceral. There’s also a different approach to the way I present jokes online because the camera’s right in your face and your timing is a little different,” Bealum says. “As opposed to just there’s a crowd, there’s a mic, there’s a barstool, here’s some jokes. The production for a lot of comedy has changed. I think that’s really the interesting thing.”
Although ticket sales for online shows have slowed down as more people become vaccinated and are willing to be more adventurous, STAB! Comedy Theater owner Jesse Jones believes streaming stand-up, sketch and improv shows will continue to be an integral part of his business model.
“I was fortunately already trying to stream all of our stuff every weekend anyway,” Jones says. “We got ahead of it a little bit because the last weekend before we had to shut down was the first time we had streamed everything we were doing. So it actually worked out pretty well.” …
As an artist, she paints as a way to understand humanity and the complexities that haunt us all as individuals across cultures. Through shades of dark charcoals and strokes of soft whites, the shapes of contorted faces and human skulls slowly pop from more than 100 canvases dedicated to the visual concept behind Lin Fei Fei’s last exhibit, “The Distance Between Black and White.”
There’s beauty in the darkness for Fei, and if you look closely enough, you may find yourself swept up in one of her paintings, tapping into the fluidity between light and dark and what binds us all as humans: our emotions.
“At first, I was just curious about what we’re made of as humans, as far as personalities and humanities. I just want to find out what the truth is,” Fei says. “Skulls for so many different cultures represent death. But for scientists, skulls are studied because it’s our foundation. It’s a place where we can put our thoughts and brain. This is who we are, what we’re built of. I’m not necessarily using the subject as a representation of death or darkness. I hope people recognize it as a foundation of who we are.”
Born in China, Fei recalls touching her nose and studying the shapes of eyes as a little girl before drawing them on paper. At just 7 years old, she knew she wanted to be a professional artist.
Fei graduated from the prestigious Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Northeast China. As a student, she traveled the world and learned centuries-old tempera painting techniques in Italy using stone powder, egg whites and tree oil. Through her studies, she developed a respect for art history, mixing her rugged elegance with classical approaches.
“For me, oil painting is a very graceful, elegant material,” Fei says. “Acrylics are cool, and other materials are cool, too, but oil can maintain history.”
With a wanderer’s heart, Fei turned down an opportunity to teach at Luxun Academy and moved to the United States in 2015. Besides her partner at the time, Fei says she didn’t know anyone so she began selling art on the street before linking up with Blue Line Arts Gallery in Roseville and eventually branching out into Sacramento’s tight-knit art community.
“I usually try to work with galleries and museums, but when I moved to America, nobody knew who I was,” she says. “For me, it’s all a fun adventure. I feel very accomplished by starting from nothing and becoming something. I just always want to keep humble and keep doing what I’m doing because life teaches me how to maintain who I am. I always remember where I came from.”
In 2018, Fei was tapped to participate in the Wide Open Walls mural festival, an annual event in which local and traveling artists from all over the world paint fresh murals on businesses throughout Sacramento. Fei was assigned Holy Diver, an independent music venue on 21st Street in midtown.
In China, Fei says, graffiti and street art don’t sit well with the government or police. She was thrilled at the opportunity to cover an entire building in her unique aesthetic. It was her first public art piece in the United States.
“I hadn’t done a mural before in public, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out, people really liked it,” Fei says. “I enjoy interacting with people on the street because there are no boundaries. When you’re out in public, your work is given to everybody. I love how people stop by and talk to you, from different ages to different cultural backgrounds. Everything’s a surprise.” …
People connect through food. Whether that’s breaking bread across cultures or sharing the warmth of a family recipe, food connects people to memories worth savoring.
During a pandemic, the way in which people use food to connect changes.
In Sacramento, everyone from professional chefs to home cooks and cottage bakers rely on social media as a means to introduce people to their food. It’s a simple way to post weekly pop-up menus filled with photogenic bites that are quickly devoured by die-hard followers.
“It’s like a treasure hunt. People like this speakeasy culture where you have to know about it,” says Claryssa Ozuna, owner of Hella Good 916, a weekly pop-up that specializes in quesabirria tacos and homemade tres leches cakes — all of which sell out just as quickly as they’re made.
“You have to know what day, you have to know what time, and then it’s a matter of getting your order in before they sell out. So it’s this exclusive experience and this unique content that you can share with other people.”
Ozuna shares Hella Good’s menu with more than 2,000 Instagram followers who pick-up orders on Friday afternoons. As a licensed caterer with over a decade of experience working in various kitchens — including fine dining to bars and cafes — Ozuna says she easily makes at least 300 tacos on pick-up days.
On those days, she sets up shop in South Sacramento, crisping rows of corn tortillas on the grill before covering each with mounds of shredded cheese and generous portions of savory, slow-stewed beef. It’s a crispy, melty, umami mouthfeel that’s enriched by dipping each bite in Ozuna’s flavorful consumé, a deep red, unctuous beef broth that smacks with warm spices.
“It gets pretty crazy sometimes, but I really love doing it,” she says. “I’m like the kind of person that loves to go, go, go. So, when the orders are flowing and we got a bunch of things going on, we’re thriving.”
This social media-influenced, pre-order business model is relatively new and has opened a path for many with big food dreams to cut overhead costs and break into the local industry on their terms. For these chefs and bakers, selling delicious fare was not only a way to make ends meet during the pandemic, but also a way to reach new people and offer a taste of who they are through their unique menus. …
Annie Bowler grew up running through her family’s 8-acre orange orchard in Ojai in Ventura County. She recalls tending to her family’s small vegetable garden and helping her late brother, Tom Martin, pour wine at the Paso Robles Wine Festival, which he started in 1983. Her family’s roots are embedded in California soil.
Now Annie and her husband, John Bowler, own and operate the Flower Farm in Loomis with 6 acres of mandarin oranges and an additional half-acre that has malbec grapes, other fruit trees, vegetable gardens and colorful flower beds. It’s also home to the Flower Farm Inn; Flower Farm Cafe; and Flower Farm Events Barn, which, before coronavirus restrictions, hosted large weddings.
“This land has been farmed since 1905 continuously, so our soil is very fertile,” Annie says. “There’s been plum trees and, I believe, a pear orchard for a while, and then in between there was cattle and sheep.” The Bowlers are members of the Mountain Mandarin Growers’ Association, which promotes agritourism for its roughly 30 mandarin farms throughout Placer County.
Mandarins and other citrus are a commodity of local pride in Placer County, which has hosted the annual Mountain Mandarin Festival since 1994. But the county’s 2020-21 citrus season — which includes mandarin, navel and blood oranges; Meyer lemons; and grapefruit — has been a bit different. According to the Bowlers, the longer, hotter summer days meant their mandarins started ripening at the end of October, earlier than normal.
“Frankly, because it’s so warm, what has impacted it is we never had citrus in October,” Annie says. “It’s usually the second half of November and like (around) Thanksgiving before we start selling. I didn’t even imagine we were going to be ready to have mandarins. This is the earliest ever.”
The area’s citrus farmers say they are surviving despite the early harvest and the coronavirus pandemic, and they appreciate their customers’ loyalty. As farmers and event organizers adapt to climate change and the ongoing spread of the pandemic, mandarins have offered a bright taste of normalcy during such grim times.
Mandarin Sales Are Soaring
About 260 acres of mandarins were harvested in the rolling hills of Placer County in 2018-19, according to Corrie Larsen, deputy commissioner of the Placer County Agricultural Commission. Mandarins were valued at an estimated $3.3 million in the county’s 2019 crop report.
Carol Arnold, CEO of PlacerGrown, an organization that connects residents with locally grown produce through farmers markets, says there are more than 80 mandarin growers in the county, and fresh produce sales were higher in 2020 than previous years.
“It’s kind of like making lemonade out of lemons,” Arnold says. “I would say that the most surprising, marvelous thing that has happened is how flexible and adaptable the farming community has been. Their willingness to cooperate with a wildly changing regulatory environment has been amazing.”
She says mandarins are crops that are naturally more bountiful some years, with 2020 yielding a heavy crop, and last year also had high demand from customers seeking natural ways to combat the cold and flu season during a pandemic.
With more than 800 mandarin trees over multiple orchards, Rich Colwell of Colwell Thundering Herd Ranch in Penryn says he has experienced this increased demand for fresh citrus, so he pivoted his marketing strategy to include online orders as well as more outreach to high-end markets such as Corti Brothers in Sacramento and Oliver’s Market locations in Sonoma County.
“We have switched this year to more wholesale, and we’re willing to drive farther than we would typically drive, because we know there’s going to be demand in those places for our product,” Colwell says. “We’re having a very good year. The fruit is good, it’s heavy, it’s sweet.” …
Third-party delivery services help—and hinder—restaurants during COVID-19
By Steph Rodriguez
Restaurateur Derar Zawaydeh initially signed up for DoorDash as a means to combat “dead time” during the day, as in those gaps when indoor service is slow and employees are still clocked in with little to do. Zawaydeh, who owns five Burgers and Brew locations from Sacramento to Chico as well as Crepeville in Midtown Sacramento, says he has come to rely on DoorDash even more during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You come across times in the day where you still have employees, but they’re not doing much,” he says. “So we were trying to fill that with delivery services. It works really, really well with our concepts like with our burgers, not the crepes.”
For Sacramento-area restaurants operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hits just keep on coming. Many restaurants were quick to adapt to ever-changing dining restrictions in order to keep doors open. But besides the challenges associated with a quick pivot from indoor to outdoor seating, takeout and curbside delivery, some establishments point to another difficulty—third-party delivery services.
When the pandemic forced restaurants to rethink how to reach their customers, many turned to DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and similar services for their built-in fleets of delivery drivers. Yet the commission each company takes per order, a range between 20-40 percent, has many wondering if these services are truly helping their business or taking advantage of an unfortunate situation.
“Honestly, I personally do not like them very much because what they charge is outrageous,” Zawaydeh says. “I know people that are being charged 35 percent. When you pay 35 percent of your sales, what are you making? That’s crazy. They charge the consumer as well. They take money both ways.”
For Zawaydeh, once outdoor seating is full and orders start stacking up in the kitchen, he says his managers at all Burgers and Brew locations have the authority to turn off the app to better serve their dining customers. “I’ve come to realize that it was affecting my business, it was affecting the customers who were in the place because orders were taking long,” he says. “If we’re busy, we simply put a stop to it because it’s the least moneymaking and it’s affecting the people that are in the restaurant, so why should I be spending another 20 percent and my customers are not happy?”
Drivers Gone Astray
Besides the commission each delivery service receives, restaurant owners, including Zawaydeh, say there are a number of ways rogue delivery drivers take their slice of the pie. On one occasion, a driver arrived at Burgers and Brew on R Street and showed the employee a pickup order on his smartphone. The order was then handed over and the driver left.
Later that day when a customer complained about a missing order, Zawaydeh found out that the driver showed his employee a screenshot versus the actual live feed of the purchase. Meaning, the driver who initially showed the employee his smartphone wasn’t the true carrier and simply received a screenshot of the order from a second driver with real-time access to Burgers and Brew to-go orders via the delivery app. It’s a lot of work for a free burger, but it’s a hustle that Zawaydeh won’t fall for again. Now, all third-party affiliated orders are heavily vetted before any food leaves the restaurant.
Over in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, Diana Dich, whose family owns Happy Takeout, says not only do the high commission rates leave a bad taste in her mouth, but she’s also experienced her fair share of mishaps with delivery drivers. She says some drivers sign up for a variety of apps and get a ping when an order is placed and rush to the restaurant in order to beat the true driver and keep the food for themselves.
“We’ve experienced this scam on numerous occasions,” she says. “We now require all drivers to show us their phone as well as confirm what is on the order, but some still slip by.”
Happy Takeout, a small Chinese restaurant, is bustling daily with customers waiting outside to pick up orders of steamy beef chow fun and sticky orange chicken. Most days, Dich works from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. just to keep her family business going.
“The problem with Grubhub is they do not keep a history of who was assigned to the order when drivers get changed,” she says, citing a problem referenced by several other restaurant owners. “So a driver can come in, have the order on the phone with our side showing their face and name. Then, a few minutes later, the driver will change on the tablet with no clue who took the food.”
Although Dich was able to negotiate the delivery service commission rate, she says not all companies are forthcoming with that information. “I would suggest no business ever sign up for their ‘promotions,’ which is how they get you,” she says. “The commission is negotiable, and of course, they don’t tell you that.”
From April through June, delivery orders increased 32 percent compared to the same time last year, according to a spokesperson from Grubhub via email. Food sales were also up 59 percent year over year. As these delivery service giants respond to ramped-up demand, some are taking steps to ensure these problems are fixed. At DoorDash, senior policy advisor Katie Witman says all drivers’ behavior as well as customer feedback are closely tracked.
“If the customer rates the Dasher poorly, we track that very closely and if a Dasher does not maintain a certain level of ratings they are deactivated from our platform,” Witman says. “So every customer has the ability to provide feedback on how their delivery experience went. We’re actually rolling out a great new tool for our merchant partners to see that feedback directly in the merchant portal and interact with customers directly.”
In cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, legislators capped delivery fees at 15 percent, helping keep costs low for struggling restaurants who use third-party services. At the state level, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez authored Assembly Bill 2149, the Fair Food Delivery Act, and it passed the Legislature in August with bipartisan support. AB 2149 requires food delivery companies like DoorDash and Grubhub to have an agreement with restaurants before delivering their food as some third-party delivery services do not and display a restaurant’s food online anyway.
“This bill levels the playing field for small businesses by empowering mom-and-pop restaurants to have a say in whether delivery app companies can deliver food to their customers,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said in a statement on her website. The bill now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.
Backed Into a Corner
On his days off, Executive Chef Adam Pechal says he doesn’t want to cook. In July, he launched two restaurant concepts, Cali Bird and Atom Burger — as well as the return of Tuli Bistro on Sept. 4 — all inside Tiger Bar and Food Hall on K Street. All orders are to-go, which Pechal says leaves him no choice but to use DoorDash and Uber Eats’ services to get his food out to the public.
“I don’t want to pay the extra money and I don’t want the restaurants to lose the money. I want to go give my money to the restaurants directly when I can,” he says of his experience using delivery apps as a means of research and as a way to buy local food. “I’m hoping through all this, there’s a rise in competition with these apps and they’re going to have to tighten up their game. I feel like they’ve got us backed into a corner, so they’re just kind of getting away with everything.”
Pechal hopes as the volume of orders increases across all of his restaurants, he won’t need to rely on delivery services and can do away with them altogether. He also plans to revamp Tiger’s website in order to direct customers to an app of his choosing.
“What will happen is, we direct people to the website and they can ideally order takeout and just order through our website online. Or, they click the delivery button and we send them to the delivery app of our choice,” he says. “I’m hoping, say six months down the road, maybe we use two apps instead of five. They have to be able to negotiate moving forward. They just don’t have to right now because everybody’s so desperate.”