Down the Aisle:Amanda Dell and Kimberly Chou Tsun An

Co-Directors of Food Book Fair Interview and Images by Aimee Brodeur

I couldn't wait to meet up with Amanda and Kim to get the low down on what’s planned for the upcoming 2017 Food Book Fair in NYC. Whether you are looking to find inspiration through food or for new ways to get involved in your local community, the lectures, dinners, and publishers that they have lined up highlight a culturally diverse and thematically layered range of topics from community organizing and global food culture to local up-and-comers. As we walked the aisles, our conversation quickly bounced from favorite books and zines to very real issues such as the true cost of food. These two women practice what they preach, and Kim and Amanda showed us how food, culture, and politics can be simultaneously fun, beautiful, and poignant. If you are in NYC the weekend of May 12th-14th, we highly suggest that you find an event or two that sparks your interest, grab some tickets, show up, and enjoy!

What does a typical grocery run look like for you?

K: I am part of the Park Slope Co-Op. I was hesitant at first but then I came to realize that it’s about building the world you wish to see through co-operative economics… but also the organic raw coconut chips that I get in the bulk aisle are the best I’ve ever had. (laughing)

A: I walk the fine line of wanting to get food at a great value but also understanding that I need to pay for what the food is worth. I remember one summer I was with some friends at a house we rented together and I was looking at the price tags on the cheeses. It blew my mind how inexpensive they were, and it turned out that they were from the Co-Op. That planted the seed for me and now I’m also part of the Co-Op. It’s a store filled with everything you would want to buy but also doesn’t have anything you wouldn’t want to buy.

I’m assuming that because there is so much member feedback, it really must feel like a grocery store for its members and by its members.

A: Right- like you wouldn’t see frosted flakes there, though they do have a select few brand name grocery staples that you would find at a big box grocery store.

K: I live very close by, so you will see me riding my bike down the hill at 7AM to start my shift, and the whole time I’m just thinking about what I want to buy.

What items would we consistently find on your shopping list?

K: Tortillas, cilantro, coconut chips, smoked fish, and hot sauces. Each week I usually make a big batch of rice, toast the coconut chips, chop cilantro and scallion, and add vinegar and sesame oil to make some version of a tiger vegetable salad. Sometimes I’ll put turmeric and ginger in it. Oh, and sauerkraut from Lancaster Farm Fresh– I always have that on hand too.

A: I usually always have eggs, citrus, berries, and greens. I’m also obsessed with making curry, ever since my friend Mira curry shamed me (laughing).

Curry shamed you? What is that?

A: I was grocery shopping with her once night for dinner and I picked up a bottle of pre-made curry and asked her is we should get it for dinner. Her response was, “Why would you buy that? You could just make it.” So I ended up getting really into making my own curry. It was definitely a winter go-to.

Also, the Co-Op’s not my one stop shop. I’m definitely a multi-store shopper. I’ll go there about twice a month and focus on buying produce and things like lemons, frozen fish, yogurt, and coffee- things I know I can really get a better price on. I also go to Fairway, Trader Joe’s, Commodities, and Whole Foods.


“It’s about building the world you wish to see through co-operative economics… but also the organic raw coconut chips that I get in the bulk aisle are the best I’ve ever had.”

What is Commodities? I haven’t been.

K: It’s on 1st Ave between 10th and 11th. It’s a classic health food store.

A: It’s an old vestige of what the East Village used to be like.

K: Oh, Elm Health! That’s an incredible health food store. I can’t believe we didn’t mention that spot. It’s so good.

Would you say that your grocery habits are a reflection of your upbringing?

A: I’m totally a product of my upbringing. I got my love of grocery shopping from my mom. I put a lot of thought and care into what buy and I support products that I believe in.

K: I love a good bulk bin section. I love seeing things and putting them into the container myself. I do that in other aspects of life as well. I like it when things are organized.

I grew up eating homemade Chinese food almost every day, but since it was the 90’s I also ate a lot of processed food. As a child of immigrants, my parents assimilated by buying the brands and things to show that you are “doing alright” and hitting those points of American-ness that you’re expected to hit. Now I look back and I think I should have appreciated it more when my mom would make fried rice and put it in my lunchbox in a thermos.

What are you excited about right now in the food and publishing world?

K: At the moment at FBF, we are increasingly trying to amplify the voices of women of color because, honestly, these are the people who are really doing some of the dopest shit right now. We are really excited about our friend Chinchakriya Un who has a Cambodian pop up called Kreung at the Williamsburg Smorgasburg on Saturdays. She is also doing a dinner at Food Book Fair this year with the idea to make food from her family’s heritage. Her parents are both refugees and survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. She grew up here with her brothers and part of the goal of her project is to raise funds to build a tractor for her family’s home village. But it’s also a way, as she cooks with her family, to work through some deep inter-generational trauma. There is a sort of nonverbal communication in the making and sharing of food that helps create a safe and comfortable place to open up and talk about that stuff.

A: I think it’s important to talk about restaurant culture. We need to be looking at restaurant practices and find ways to support them without glamorizing them. I would like to see more people showing all of the cogs of the wheel that make a restaurant work. I’ve worked in restaurants where most people just see swans floating around on the floor, or a chef without a spot of food on their apron, and they don’t know about the people who come in at 1AM and clean the restaurant all night or the prep men and women who shell thousands of fava beans. There is so much that goes into making a restaurant successful, and I would like to see a deeper dive into that conversation.


“As a child of immigrants, my parents assimilated by buying the brands and things to show that you are “doing alright” and hitting those points of American-ness that you’re expected to hit.”

What ingredients have you recently had that you are currently in love with?

K: Pre-ground black sesame seeds! I lived in Taipei last summer and would make a delicious instant porridge just by adding water. You can add sugar to it and put it in mochi- you can put it in anything. I add it to my rice, or put it in my oatmeal.

A: Cacao nibs are my thing right now. I put them on top of yogurt and fruit. I also am obsessed with this olive oil called Frantoia. Gerardo Gonzalez turned me onto it. You can get it at the Co-op!

What are your favorite items to splurge on?

K: White Moustache yogurt.

What cookbooks are you excited about that are coming out soon?

K: Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

A: The Salad for President cookbook. Also the Tartine All Day cookbook too!

Favorite Cookbooks of all time?

K: Right now, it’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, by Amy Chaplin; Saltie, by Caroline Fidanza, et al (though I’ve never successfully made yogurt via the method suggested in that book); The Food of Taiwan, by Cathy Erway; and Breakfast, Lunch & Tea, by Rose Carrarini. And secretly, I have a love-loathe relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and my carrot-miso dressing is cribbed straight from there.

I don’t actually cook out of too many cookbooks, I mostly read them for inspiration- bedside reading. I reread At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen a couple times a year to refresh my thinking about my pantry, my palette, and if I need a life reminder about eating simply.

I also love non-cookbooks with recipes in them, like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, with the ur-vinaigrette recipe, and Jessica B. Harris’s My Soul Looks Back, which includes a Maya Angelou curry recipe; (Amanda, finally lending you my copy today!) I would love, love to get a copy of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s Vibration Cooking.

A:  My favorite cookbooks (this is like picking favorites with your children), but right now they are Dinner at the Long Table by Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn; and The Frankie’s Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli, Peter Meehan, Frank Castronovo.


“There is a sort of nonverbal communication in the making and sharing of food that helps create a safe and comfortable place to open up.”

Take-aways:

  1. Food Book FairFood Book Fair
  2. KreungCambodian Pop-Up
  3. Park Slope Co-OpCo-Op Grocery
  4. CommoditiesCommodities Health Food Store
  5. Elm HealthElm Health Grocery