Authors@Google: Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, "Mission Street Food"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 08.09.2011

>>Announcer Chris: Hello everyone. Thank you for coming to today's Authors @ Google talk.
I'm really excited to welcome Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz here to talk about their
new book, Mission Street Food: Ideas and Recipes from an Improbable Restaurant. They've been
doing some of the most interesting and exciting things in the food scene in San Francisco
for awhile. They're a husband and wife duo that seem to have no lack of ambition for
various restaurant endeavors, some of which seem pretty spontaneous. So anyways to hear
about the genesis of all these ideas, please join me in welcoming Anthony and Karen.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Thanks Chris and thanks all of you for coming. Anthony is just finishing
up some final prep. We're gonna give you some food. We actually are here in part because
someone came to another event that we did and invited us along and I really think this
program, Authors @ Google, is so wonderful, so thank you so much for having us. I guess
we'll just say a little bit about what we've been doing and give you some samples of our
book and then we'll hopefully have a discussion.
>>Anthony Myint: Our book is split into roughly two parts, a narrative and a food section
with recipes. The narrative describes us a bit and then covers our brief but eventful
run in a taco truck in 2008. We sold flatbread sandwiches which were surprisingly popular
forcing us to move into a restaurant. Here's a little excerpt from the narrative of our
first night in the restaurant.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Can you guys hear?
[murmurs from the audience]
>>Anthony Myint: Sorry. So this is a little excerpt from the book which is from the first
night in the restaurant. "As soon as we opened, orders started coming in five or six at a
time, but the metal ticket holder was broken. We were stacking tickets on the only available
surface in the kitchen, which was the narrow counter where we were also plating food. Tickets
were sticking to dishes or getting greasy and illegible. When duplicate tickets started
showing up, disorganization turned to utter chaos. Finally we decided to completely disregard
tickets and just make random batches of each dish as fast as we could. I can only imagine
what the dining room must have been like, because I never even left the kitchen."
>>Karen Leibowitz: And I should explain that part of our book is structured as a dialog,
so Anthony speaks and then I speak and we're reproducing that effect for you now. "My memories
of that night are hazy. As I sprinted the two blocks from the BART station, I was working
at the time in Berkeley, I saw a crowd standing outside the restaurant and wondered if they'd
had to evacuate for some reason. I ran faster. As I opened the door I saw a completely full
house and it seemed like everyone I knew was there. Half a dozen of our friends had spontaneously
stepped in to help. It was unclear who was a server and who was a customer and even people
I didn't know seemed familiar, like in a dream, though I probably recognized some of them
from the truck. Then again, a lot of people in the Mission look the same to me now that
beards have come back into fashion [audience chuckles]. The new MSF had been open for about
an hour and it was an utter shit show. They had switched over to dim sum style service
and the tables closest to the kitchen were gobbling up all the food, leaving the tables
farther away from the kitchen hungry and pissy." And just as a side note, we learned after
the book went to the printer that one of our friends who was a waitress was actually being
grabbed by the legs as she came out of the kitchen, people wouldn't let her penetrate
farther into the dining room. "The beer was warm, the cash register was broken, so a friend
was doling, doing all the check calculations with pencil and paper in the dark. As a group
we had no system, no table numbers, no common language for the food we were serving. We
were laughably inept. No one wanted to wash dishes full time, so we took turns randomly
going back to clean whatever we were desperate for. At the end of the night, I worked that
dishwasher for what seemed like hours, wondering how I had arrived at this point in my life."
So my other job in Berkeley was as professor. "I could hear Anthony talking with the owners
of Lung Shan behind me in Cantonese, but I couldn't understand a word. I thought, 'they
better be talking about what a good wife I am.'"
>>Karen Leibowitz: "When we got home, I was exhausted to the point of despondency, but
I also felt a little bit sentimental. Anthony had become a chef. I had become a dishwasher
slash restaurant manager. Our friends were pulling for us. We were incompetent. We were
successful. Nothing made any sense."
>>Anthony Myint: So I guess maybe it's worth noting that we, we started in a taco truck
and we were selling flatbread sandwiches that were kind of designed to make it, to take
advantage of the facilities the truck had to offer, but they were in a sense sort of
just like gourmet tacos and before we had even set foot in the truck for the first time,
I guess someone had blogged about it and there was a line of customers waiting. And then
each week things got more and more kind of crazy and we were more and more popular and
then eventually we, for reasons you can read about in the book, were forced to move into
a restaurant. But we only took two weeks off in that time and we were still working full-time
jobs so we, I guess there were, there were a lot of decisions to be made like what kind
of food we were gonna serve and who would be the staff and would we even have table
service or what?
>>Karen Leibowitz: Would anyone show up?
>>Anthony Myint: [laughing] And so.
>>Karen Leibowitz: I thought you were gonna say a little bit about the first menu?
>>Anthony Myint: So the first menu that we served had one of the signature dishes from the truck, which was
called a PB&J. It was crispy pork belly, which is the PB, marinated jicama and cilantro aioli,
among other things, and then also a dish that was a Burmese soup called Ohn-No-Kauk-Swe,
which I enjoyed growing up and then two kinds of fried rice, I guess mainly centered around
smoking the rice and frying the rice in duck fat and serving it with crispy duck skin,
which in part we're sort of trying to recreate today with sort of like little Peking duck
hors d'oeuvres. [pause] [inaudible]
>>Karen Leibowitz: Ok. What? So that flatbread sandwich kind of took many forms over the
course of Mission Street Food and one of the most successful was kind of a form of Peking
duck with a duck breast confit and a duck skin that had been made crispy. So we're gonna
read a little bit about the Peking duck in our book and then also give you a version
of that, but with chicken. So, do you wanna?
>>Anthony Myint: "I spent a month eating my way around China, but my favorite Peking duck
is in an old strip mall in the suburbs of Washington D.C. at Peking Gourmet Inn. The
walls are chockablock with pictures of politicians and celebrities, all smiling the same Peking
duck induced smile. Ducks are carved tableside by lifelong professionals who expertly unfurl
broad swaths of crispy skin and slices of tender meat. The restaurant owners serve the
duck with a special variety of yellow spring onion grown on their own farm along with hoisin
sauce, soy-cured peppers, julienned cucumbers, and crucially, thin flour wrappers. The entire
ensemble is sublimely satisfying. It's a dish I could eat every day."
>>Karen Leibowitz: "The traditional preparation of Peking duck involves separating the skin
from the fat with a kind of bellows and actually some friends of ours tried to simulate this
with a bike pump before resorting to the air compressor at the gas station one time. The
ducks are then air dried for one or two days to remove excess water from the skin, then
roasted by hanging over wood embers in a brick oven so the fat can render and the duck can
self baste."
>>Anthony Myint: "Unfortunately, this was not even remotely possible in the small refrigerators
and half-broken oven at Mission Street Food. However, it's the crispy skin, hoisin and
cucumber combo that really brings the dish home for me, so it's still possible to approach
that Peking duck epiphany without doing anything the right way. We served variations of this
flavor combo in tacos, flatbread sandwiches and even something we called a chineedo, a
rice noodle wrapped around a Chinese donut stuffed with the usual suspects."
>>Karen Leibowitz: So this is what that section looks like in our book and you can see that
the recipes are given photos step by step and then each one has a little headnote. So
you probably can't read the beginning, but it says, "Peking duck is all about the crispy
skin, our alternative to roasting whole ducks is to start with separate skins and make crackling.
Ideally you'd use duck skin, but chicken skin is easier to obtain and is a more than acceptable
substitution. Your local butcher might be nice enough to just give you their unwanted
poultry skins, but act quickly. Chicken skin is the new bacon and soon opportunists will
be selling novelties like chicken wrapped in chicken skin."
>>Karen Leibowitz: And then this is the next page where you get the end of the recipe for
the Peking duck and then a kind of background on confit and then you can see on the right
Anthony is enjoying Peking duck with an old woman who we work with. She'll eat anything.
It's actually kind of our game to bring her any kind of food. I mean it's not that Peking
duck is hard to get anyone to eat, but we have brought her those enormous dosas or like
food from all nations and she loves it all. So it's very gratifying to watch her eat.
>>Anthony Myint: But she likes cheeseburgers I think the best.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Ok.
>>Anthony Myint: So I guess maybe now we'll just pass out some food and things before
we move on. [pause] So Mission Street Food was maybe one of the earlier or first pop-up
restaurants and apart from just doing that we also kind of had some other unusual things
going on, one of which is that we invited guest chefs from around the city to join us
and present half of the menu each time. Part of us doing that was because we were working
full-time jobs and it was really hard to prep enough food for everybody, but also part of
it was that like I was just a line cook and felt a little bit, I don't know, I guess humble
at the fact that I was now kind of chef of a restaurant, not necessarily having like
gone through the traditional route or having paid traditional dues and so I kind of wanted
other cooks around the city to have that opportunity to, to come and present like food that they
were interested in making. And so we had guest chefs serving like all kinds of different
food and then we would just do half the menu also in the same style as they did, so some
of the kind of themes that we, themes or styles of food that we served over the year and a
half were Malaysian food, breakfast for dinner, Jewish food, fancy McDonalds, chaat, whole
hog, and Mexiterranean.
>>Karen Leibowitz: So when we first announced this guest chef program, we had kind of big
ambitions. We thought it was gonna be like a revolution in the American restaurant kitchen,
which the kitchens tend to be pretty hierarchical, and we were planning some kind of collaborative
style. And so sometimes we did kind of have that initial dream of a line cook who wanted
a chance to try out his or her own food. Sometimes we had more established chefs who were, you
know, maybe doing California cuisine everyday and they wanted their chance to do something
else. Sometimes chefs would come to Mission Street Food and do previews of restaurants
that they were opening. So like we had Wexler's try things out and Baker and Banker tried
out their food at Mission Street Food. After a certain point, we did Mission Street Food
for about 20 months, and after a certain point we kind of ran out of people who wanted to
work really hard and give away any money that they made to charity. [chuckles] It's weird.
>>Karen Leibowitz: So we were sort of left to our own devices. And out of that dearth
of guest chefs came this idea to do what we called the homage series. And it was a way
of bringing in a kind of guest chef to give the menu some focus. So Anthony and his cronies
would come up with a chef, often one whose food they had never actually tried, and try
to make food in emulation of that style.
>>Anthony Myint: So my cronies at that time were Danny Bowien, who is now the chef of
a restaurant that came from Mission Street Food sort of, called Mission Chinese Food,
and Danny has earned a lot of accolades recently and I think he's well on his way to becoming
a celebrity chef, but at that time he was still just a jaded line cook. And then the
other person working with me at the time was Ian Muntzert who is now the chef de cuisine
at Commonwealth, but he had just worked at Coi for a few months, which is like I guess
for the past few years has been one of if not the best like haute cuisine restaurants
in the city or in San Francisco. And so basically we had sort of too many cooks in the kitchen
and kind of a lot of different ideas and stuff, but so we, I think Danny actually had the
idea to just make food in the style of like world class chefs at Michelin starred restaurants
and, and there was something you know sort of ridiculous about doing this in a kind of
run down Chinese restaurant with Christmas lights on the walls and like loud music and
people essentially like sharing tables huddled together in chaos in the dark or whatever.
But over that time we did menus in the style of Noma, which is a restaurant in Copenhagen
that has become or yeah has since gone on to become the worlds' number one restaurant
and some other tributes like to all-time great chefs like Escoffier but so I guess this second
thing that we'll be serving today is one of the recipes that came from one of the homage
dinners which was a Noma tribute.
>>Karen Leibowitz: So Noma is in Copenhagen and the idea of the restaurant is to do Nordic
cuisine, really local ingredients for Scandinavia. Some of those ingredients are not available
to us. So in our, in our book we give a recipe for the oyster tarragon puree that René Redzepi
invented and the headnote says, "This is my version of a sauce they serve at Noma, the
number one restaurant in the world. We add oysters for depth and brininess and to take
off the, take the edge off of the tarragon. It's a complex sauce that could be used with
elemental dishes like steak, fish, chicken or omelets. I apologize to René Redzepi and
his staff as I'm sure our version doesn't do justice to Noma's. Serve with a musk ox
tartare or wood sorrel and juniper if you wanna bite Noma's style. Or go off on your
own if you think that you're better than René Redzepi. At MSF we couldn't get musk ox so
we used regular ox and AXE body spray."
>>Karen Leibowitz: So today we'll be serving the oyster tarragon puree with a little bit
of mushroom and potato just as an appetizer/hors d'oeuvre type thing. So I hope you didn't
ruin your appetite with chicken confit.
>>Anthony Myint: One of the biggest advantages of the homage series was giving us something
to blog about.
>>Karen Leibowitz: [chuckles] So actually we talk a little bit about the importance
of our blog in these sections that we sort of privately called sidebars. So as Anthony
mentioned, about half of the book is the story of what we did and then we have these colored
pages which have sort of particular things that we discuss. So this one is called Blogstaurant
For Better or Worse.
>>Anthony Myint: "While the restaurant industry has been pretty slow to adapt to the reality
of the internet age, Mission Street Food was an early and enthusiastic adopter of new media.
In fact, we could not have survived without the internet. As a pop-up restaurant, we were
only visible to the public for about a dozen hours a week, so we used our blog as a substitutes
to our front window where we could hang our little signs announcing upcoming events, warning
that we would be closed for a wedding, or just reminding the world that we existed.
We tried to keep it simple. Most of our posts were just a paragraph on the next guest chef
or theme, a paragraph on that night's charity." I guess I forgot to mention that we donated
all of our profits to local hunger-related charities. "And finally the upcoming menu.
Can we all agree that we don't need any more flash introductions, ambient electronic music
or close-up food photography before we get to see a restaurant's address? But the internet."
Oh, I'm sorry.
>>Karen Leibowitz: "But the internet is a two-way street. We had our blog and our Twitter
account, but we weren't the only ones talking about MSF. We were a hot topic on local sites
before we sold our first flatbread and as time went on we got more press from serious
food bloggers, who took meticulous notes on the dishes they ate. Their prioritization
of blogging over actually eating was, on the surface, distasteful. But upon further consideration,
we started to see ourselves as equally responsible since our menus were practically begging for
documentation and commentary. Even worse, we chose our themes with an eye toward our
blog. Yes, we were sell-outs."
>>Anthony Myint: "In our defense, we behaved no worse than a chef pandering to local food
critics. It just so happened that our clientèle was largely composed of food critics democratically
selected by themselves. Along with the food we served, we were part of an online feedback
loop of blog-driven satisfaction and 'critical acclaim.' Looking back, our only regret is
that we spent so much time trying to make the food taste good rather than just crafting
electronic files replete with polished photos and pithy remarks ready for 'consumers' to
upload to their sites. Or perhaps we shouldn't have involved the customers at all and simply
blogged about an imaginary restaurant ourselves. Best of luck to any aspiring blogstaurateurs
out there. We're looking forward to not even eating your food."
>>Karen Leibowitz: So I guess we were thinking that it might be interesting to sort of talk
with you guys about the effect of the internet on the restaurant business and I guess other
kinds of culture as well. We in some ways are blog-led to the book because we spent
so much time writing about the restaurant that it sort of was natural to, to write further.
And I think it does sort of speak to the importance of I guess how people organize their lives
now so that if you can sort of tap into that in terms of the menus and the marketing and
so forth.
>>Anthony Myint: I think for us one of the things that was pretty surprising was how
like just how pervasive and just how intense kind of press coverage by way of the blogosphere
and stuff had gotten. Like one point in particular that that we mention comes to mind is I think
in the second or third week when we were operating a food truck, a website called Eater SF, which
is like a pretty widely read and significant media outlet.
>>Karen Leibowitz: In the food industry.
>>Anthony Myint: Right, in the food industry, sorry. I guess like published a piece or an
update or something about how we were gonna be serving brownies that week instead of cookies
and then like that is pretty ridiculous, but then later they published a crucial update
saying that the brownies would be topped with Brie, Brie cheese and hazelnuts, and this
is of course in like San Francisco one of the major food cities in the U.S.
>>Karen Leibowitz: But I mean so that's sort of a more negative side of thing. But I think
on the more positive side there's a sense that Mission Street Food, which was a project
done by people who had no funding and in some ways no right to open a restaurant is like
a mirror image of the kind of democratization of a lot of culture that you see with the
internet where it doesn't cost much to just start publishing a blog or something, so I
guess we were sort of interested in that sense of being part of a larger breaking down of
these barriers to entry for all kinds of business. I mean in some ways we were like a startup
I guess. But I guess from there we're just ready to take questions if you have any.
>>male #1: I thank you so much for coming and bringing food. It's great. I'm a big fan
of the restaurant. One thing I always wonder about when I'm there is what the relationship
is like between Mission Chinese Food and Mission Street Food, in general, like as kind of a
community of people and the Lung Shan, the people who work at Lung Shan and how that
relationship has developed and if there was sort of any tension with or like, how do you
balance that sort of in the kitchen, I guess?
>>Karen Leibowitz: Well maybe I'll address part and. So Mission Street Food was the name
that we gave this truck that we parked out on Mission Street. And it seemed like a clever
street food thing and then we moved into a restaurant on Mission Street and kept the
name, where it was less accurate but it was fine. [giggles] And we held on to that and
then changed the name to Mission Chinese Food. And it was mostly the same people, but just
a different business model. Mission Chinese Food is open every day, whereas Mission Street
Food was twice a week and it has a stable menu. So the relationship between those two
restaurants is sort of one of evolution. The relationship between Mission Chinese Food
or Mission Street Food and Lung Shan, which is the restaurant that we occupied is a little
more complicated.
>>Anthony Myint: So I guess we initially started Mission Street Food just by going door to
door and kind of asking places if they would let us use their dining room or kitchen or
let us share the space and the people at Lung Shan were the only people who were interested.
So we started doing that and I think they were pretty you know skeptical and curious,
but also like pretty I guess risk neutral or risk seeking maybe even and just trying
to make a buck. But over time I think that we sort of like developed a mutual respect
for one another like us learning from kind of their kind of thrift and savvy in certain
ways and them sort of respecting our like different kind of savvy, if you can call it
that. But so, but so we operated Mission Street Food the whole time and we were essentially
just paying them rent, although to make things kind of on the level from a legal prospective
we had them hire us. But now that it's Mission Chinese Food, like we are all still employees
of theirs but we share the profits with them. And it's been pretty, I guess pretty exciting
to kind of see how like it's like a real culture clash or like cultural experiment or whatever
where like this business is now very much theirs. And like if you know if we didn't
have like their infrastructure of like kind of kitchen staff and delivery and stuff things
would completely fall apart, like. We definitely couldn't handle it on our own and you know
it's fun to kind of like hang out with them in the off hours when they're like eating
watermelon and sitting around, goofing around and like kind of grabbing each other's asses
and stuff, but.
>>Karen Leibowitz: So Anthony is functionally the only bilingual person in the group. So
mostly people either speak English or Cantonese, so it may be more fun for you. [laughing]
>>Karen Leibowitz: But I do enjoy seeing him make a joke in Cantonese and I can tell that
he has said something funny, even though I can't understand it at all. But it is really
a kind of, I guess, mixed bag. But at this point everyone's incentives are all lined
up, so it's good. Go ahead.
>>female #1: Ok. Yeah, I just sort of wanted to know maybe what was next and what you were
thinking about, like what your goal was for the book or how you, how you kind of came
about making a book out of this experience, which I mean it definitely seems like not
necessarily your traditional book, but where do you see, what's sort of next on the horizon?
>>Karen Leibowitz: So should I talk about the book and you talk about what's next?
>>Anthony Myint: Ok.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah, so the book came out of actually a friend of ours who had helped
out at Mission Street Food many times is the, is an editor at McSweeney's and he really
let us make any kind of cookbook we wanted and so it did seem like just an outgrowth
of the Mission Street Food project of kind of purposefully getting in over your head
and making things up as you go along. So that was, that was fun and I think also the restaurant,
because it was so weird, kind of raised questions that we wanted to address more fully, so some
of those essays, like the Blogstaurant, are a way of addressing the things like, what
is a restaurant anyway? And in terms of actual next businesses.
>>Anthony Myint: Well, it's also worth noting that there's some kind of silly, silliness
to start the book in the form of kind of a fake business plan. Which is like we never
had a business plan because things were, things kind of just grew organically. And then at
the end there's kind of a, an almost like manifesto of how to become a celebrity chef,
which is I think a little bit poking fun also at kind of like celebrity chefhood and stuff.
And I think we just wanted to write that kind of stuff for fun. As far as what's next, I
am really heavily involved at Mission Chinese Food, Karen, to a slightly less extent these
days, but then we I guess will be doing the food program at a bowling alley which will
be opening in the Mission soon. It'll be located on 17th Street I guess near between Shotwell
and Van Ness and so we're kind of just getting ready for that. It figures to be technique
driven comfort food and you know I guess we're hoping to actually make it a little bit technical
and not just put like truffle oil in macaroni and cheese and stuff.
>>female #2: I was wondering about when you guys design the menu at Mission Chinese, how
you kind of figure out how to balance authentic Chinese dishes versus new technique and like
the thrice-cooked vegan bacon, how you even think of something like that, so kind of your
approach to the design and where you want to draw the line between authenticity and
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah, well, I think there's no system. That's the main thing. That's sort
of how we always roll.
>>Anthony Myint: So Danny is the chef at Mission Chinese Food, so at the very beginning he
and I worked like pretty closely on the menu. But he has since taken over and I think the
food has gotten a lot better, but we you know mostly he just has an idea and we kind of
work things out. I think what, what the menu speaks towards is definitely a complete disregard
of authenticity. Like we're happy to kind of evoke certain dishes or resonate certain
dishes or flavor combinations that that people know and like, but in a lot of ways I think
that we use kind of like techniques that we've learned in fine dining, or even from other
cultures. Like Danny is an accomplished like sushi chef and he's worked in Italian restaurants,
I think. In, as of a couple of years ago, he was the reigning world champion of pesto.
So I mean basically it's kind of like a different kind of fusion where instead of just doing
like you know mango salsa or like different ingredients, it's almost sort of like integrating
techniques and approaches from I guess from other cultures so like a more coherent fusion
if if you will.
>>Karen Leibowitz: I think I've seen online people debating whether it's like right to
use names like Hai nam Chicken Rice for something that doesn't look like Hai nam Chicken Rice
in China and our feeling is basically like it's more like modern art where you can use
a name to allude to a tradition and then break away from it. It doesn't have to be strict
or kind of traditional and in some ways it's more fun that way, more individual. It seems
like you can get authentic food in other places but you can't get like Danny's intensely personal
vision anywhere else, so I guess we're not too concerned about authenticity.
>>Anthony Myint: Actually just really quick on the note of Hai nam Chicken Rice, that
was funny because there was a website called Chow Hound and there were like, there was
a long thread debating the Hai nam Chicken Rice. And I mean for us it was hilarious because
there were like 80 posts where people were like just really saying harsh things and some
people were defending it. And I mean for us it's like a almost like an afterthought, like
it's a cheap dish, that's like seven dollars. And you know if, if Danny wanted to make perfect
Hai nam Chicken Rice he, he easily could do that. But we just can't, given the circumstances
and different things. So I guess going back to the question, a lot of like what determines
these choices in a kitchen or menus and stuff is just the resources available and like kind
of the, the capitalist aspects or the physical aspects, like the practicalities.
>>Karen Leibowitz: And then we all went to China together this summer and we had Hai
nam Chicken Rice and I definitely prefer Danny's
>>Karen Leibowitz: And I mean I know that I don't have a lot of credibility, but on
the other hand if you like eating it, what's so wrong with that, you know? But people can
get very worked up about it.
>>female #3: That's close to what I was going to ask. The restaurant was closed over the
holidays because I understand everybody went back to China. Was it, did you both go on
that trip and can you talk a little bit about the experience?
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah, you can.
>>Anthony Myint: So we went to China where the owners live, it's actually in a small
town called Lung Shan and them. We went there with the owners and their children and a few
of the cooks and the children were the only Americans anyone in that town had ever seen
before us. So I think that makes Karen the only Caucasian to ever visit Lung Shan proper.
But it was a, I think, a great cultural experience for us because they kind of came back in style
with a lot of, well I guess it's almost like a family reunion when they go back, and so
the owner's brothers live nearby. So they all kind of came back from different areas
and they had a big banquet kind of in the town square and they bought hundreds of dollars
of extremely dangerous fireworks and kind of launched all these things and it was, it
was pretty exciting.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah, it was, it was really wonderful for us to see where they came from.
This was the man's hometown and his mother was in her 80s and about this tall and held
my hand through the whole fireworks situation. We were both a little freaked out. And it
was also interesting in terms of food, because you know a lot of times in California people
talk about local and sustainable and so forth, but when we arrived in the town, they all
went in to the garden and you know grabbed some chickens and picked a lot of vegetables
and actually jumped in the pond and fished for that night's dinner. I mean it was as
local as possible, it was about ten feet away from where we ate. And their whole method
of fishing was pretty interesting because two brothers would get in the pond and two
brothers were on the side and they had this giant net and they hit the water so that the
fish would jump into the net and it felt like we could have been in any year in the last
thousand years. You know it was so I don't know it was a completely different world from
where we were normally cooking together. And then we ate out on this courtyard and everybody
sort of cleaned up together and it was, it was really amazing. And I think it made some
of the tensions that we might feel in the restaurant a little bit muted, just to see
where they were coming from. Christine?
>>Female #4: I wanted to talk about the charitable aspect of everything that you guys are doing.
How difficult is it first of all, how sustainable is that to make that commitment to charitable
giving and additionally do you see that sort of model progressing? Like do you see other
restaurants kind of moving to that, do you see any kind of trend in that? And where might,
where in other cities might we see that sort of thing?
>>Karen Leibowitz: I'll just say a little. So when we first started Mission Street Food,
we took a small salary for ourselves, I think we each took $400 a week and then everything
that we made beyond that we gave to charities that fed the hungry. These days Mission Chinese
Food has really focused on the food bank because as we got to know more about the food delivery
system in the city we saw that as really the most efficient way to make a difference. So
75 cents from every entrée at Mission Chinese Food goes to the food bank. And then at our
other restaurant, Commonwealth, $10 from every tasting menu goes to a charity, and that rotates
every month in a kind of haphazard way. It'll be different issues, not necessarily hunger.
>>Anthony Myint: Well so I guess charitable restaurants is sort of what got me into the
food business to begin with and I had always imagined trying to open a place that was kind
of like completely scalable like Chipotle or something but just with a small charitable
aspect. And when Mission Street Food started to become very popular, we basically just
thought why not start now, so it was never our intention really to do it that way, but
things just kind of progressed that way. And I guess as far as sustainability, I mean so
far it feels sustainable. It's hard to say whether the charity actually drives business
or whether it like creates a predisposition for, you know, like a customer to be like
more receptive to it or not, but, you know, so far I guess since those restaurants have
opened like just over a year ago in total I think the two have raised over $100,000
for charity, so that I think there's like a lot of room for you know sustainability
>>female #5: Thank you guys for making the trek down to Google
>>Karen Leibowitz: Oh, our pleasure.
>>female #5: during rush hour nonetheless. Can you talk about your inspiration or where
did you learn how to cook? Where did this all come from?
>>Anthony Myint: I guess I probably first sort of learned how to cook growing up just
'cause both my parents worked and my grandmother lived with us. And she didn't speak English
very well, so she watched a lot of cooking shows and I kind of just watched them with
her. And I guess since then my first fine dining job was at a restaurant in the Mission
called Bar Tartine. And they went through a lot of different chefs early on, but then
they kind of settled on a really great chef named Jason Fox. And I feel like I learned
a lot from various people, but I probably learned the most from him and then also a
lot from Danny Bowien, who I work really closely with now.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah, I think that cooking school is overrated and so if anyone you know
is considering going, tell them not to. Yeah, Chris.
>>Announcer/Chris: Thanks again for coming, so on the one hand you guys embrace a lot
of sort of internet things like blogging and Twitter and that sort of thing, but on the
other you're working with McSweeney's, whose food writing of late has been this not so
much, I guess very offline, very long food editorials, lots of photos and always on paper,
so in a sense I think it's unfair to call them Luddites, but they're very much kind
of more traditionalists when it comes to books, so could you talk a little bit about working
with them and the kind of decisions that led to doing the book the way you did it?
>>Karen Leibowitz: Sure. You know I think that McSweeney's as a publisher certainly
loves paper, but they're actually doing some interesting things online as well and originally
we were kind of thinking of doing something more as an app, and that could still happen.
I think that cookbooks are definitely ripe for that kind of innovation. A lot of what
we were doing was trying to break out of the mold of traditional cookbooks, so there's
a kind of tradition or even cliché of like a little headnote that says "I was traveling
in Portugal and I met an old woman and she taught me this sauce" or something and then
the recipe and then a finished dish photo and we definitely didn't want to do that.
So a lot of our finished dish photos are almost like jokes about finished dish photos. Like
the pork belly dish is sitting on top of a stack of diet books. [chuckles] Just because
we sort of didn't want to do it that way and McSweeney's definitely encouraged us to do
that. I think what they want to do in general is sort of push the boundaries of genres whatever
that is and so they do really interesting things with paper to show how far you can
go with paper and I think that there's something similar with the cookbooks. They're also,
their offices are located kind of around the corner from Mission Street Food, so it was
also just extremely convenient.
>>Anthony Myint: To me also I feel like I've read a lot of cookbooks and the part that's
the most interesting, just for me personally, is like learning more about the people or
whatever like the story of the place. I mean certainly sometimes I really want the recipe
or whatever, but these days you can pretty much like find every recipe online anyway.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Right. So we emphasized the narrative a bit more. Yeah.
>>female #6: What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco besides your own and your
favorite dish at Mission Chinese?
>>Karen Leibowitz: What's our favorite restaurant?
>>Anthony Myint: Well, we have a lot of like budget favorites, but I think currently my
favorite restaurant that I'm not involved in at all is Atelier Crenn, I think the chef
there is really going for it you know in an extremely elaborate and fanciful way that
I think some people think is kind of silly or extraneous and I think is like very worthwhile
even though it's somewhat extraneous, but the food is also really delicious.
>>Karen Leibowitz: We went there once, it was definitely expensive, but very comfortable
as an experience, the, it's one of those things where the service is so good that it stops
being formal and starts being relaxed in a way like everyone sort of anticipating your
needs perfectly, but the food was as Anthony said a bit fanciful, but kind of delightful,
like you almost felt like you wanted to laugh when you put it in your mouth. So it's a little
bit embarrassing to say that you know this restaurant that we've only been to once is
our favorite restaurant, but that definitely made a big impression. We also, we live in
the Mission, and we eat a lot of burritos and I guess [giggles] we also tend to like
going to places where we're friends with the chef and so this process of having guest chefs
was great because you can go and people you know you worked with them and then they are
very nice when you come in. [laughing]
>>Anthony Myint: I guess also Vietnamese food.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Yeah.
>>female #7: Where?
>>Karen Leibowitz: Where?
>>Anthony Myint: I don't know. I like a place in the Sunset called PPQ.
>>Karen Leibowitz: On Irving near 19th. We also go to the Tenderloin for, at Turtle Tower
a lot. They have a new outlet in Soma, which is kind of exciting.
>>Anthony Myint: And I eat the food at Mission Chinese Food far too often, so my favorites
vary from day to day.
>>Karen Leibowitz: I feel like we're always most excited about whatever is new. Like the
new thing comes on and I'll eat that kind of without cease until the next thing comes.
But I think that probably the thrice-cooked bacon might be my standby or the tiger salad.
[pause] But in normal life I think we spend a lot of time trying to eat vegetables just
to catch up.
>>Announcer/Chris: So yeah, I guess we're at time. Thanks again for coming.
>>Karen Leibowitz: Thank you.
>>Anthony Myint: Thanks.