Californian chef draws on her roots, fusing Asian and Cajun food

China 24

You can find Chinese food all over the world. But it takes on new twists as it adjusts to other cultures and tastes.

CGTN’s Mark Niu introduces us to a chef in California who’s drawn on her roots to inspire a new fusion food: Casian cuisine.

Chinese food gone global often takes on new twists as it becomes immersed in different cultures. One chef in California drawing upon her own special childhood to inspire a new fusion taste.

At the newly opened restaurant Roux and Vine in Oakland, California, the menu tonight celebrates Chinese New Year.

Leilani Baugh is preparing dishes that pair rather unexpected ingredients.

Chinese style chicken-corn soup and Asian shrimp but inside a Western pastry puff.

Spareribs with traditional Chinese sauces like Hoi-sin and five spice, but also with plenty of Cajun heat.

“Casian is a combination of Asian and Cajun,” said Baugh. “I look at my menu every day and how can I infuse it more. What else can I do to add… I really just want people to kind of eat a little of my heart.”

Leilani is Chinese from her mother’s side and African-American from her father’s side.

She learned to cook from both of her grandmothers, who inspired her to create dishes that blend cultures.

“This one has a ginger flavor which you don’t usually get in other cuisines,” said customer Crystal Matson while looking at her noodles topped with shrimp and crab. “Especially not in Cajun food because Cajun food is more spicy. I feel like the ginger kind of balances out the spice, which is nice.”

At the dinner, Roux and Vine is decked out with Chinese lanterns, candies, fruit and photos of Leilani with her Chinese grandmother. In fact, later this year, Leilani plans to come out with her own cookbook, entitled From My Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

“My grandmother didn’t speak English, my other grandmother didn’t speak Cantonese, or Taishanese,” said Baugh. “They would exchange food. So my grandmother started by bringing my Chinese grandmother some greens and ham hocks. My Chinese grandmother immediately put it over rice. And she was like, oh this is great. And then she would steam fish for my other grandmother.”

Leilani said she’s fortunate to have been caught in the middle of her grandmothers’ exchanges.

She’s fluent in the Taishanese dialect.

At the co-work space called the Forage Kitchen in Oakland, you can often find Leilani spending hours testing out new recipes, like Cajun-spiced pulled pork that uses traditional Asian ingredients such as garlic and green onions.

In addition to running a restaurant five days a week, she also runs a virtual catering service where customers can place orders with just 12 hours notice.

I asked her if she gets scared when a massive order comes in with such short notice.

“It scares me when the email says 400 people at eight o’clock tomorrow morning,” says Baugh with a laugh. “I’m like okay, I’ve got to get to the restaurant right now. In the times that we are in, people are doing so much more social media, so much more, everybody needs everything that they want right now. So I want my food to be included in that right now.”

Having started her culinary career by selling plates of food out of her home and in parking lots, the delivery methods may have changed.

But the satisfaction for both Leilani and her customers remains the same.