"Easy Chinese: San Francisco" Behind the Scenes
This summer I had the unique opportunity to work as the kitchen manager for the Cooking Channel's "Easy Chinese: San Francisco." Working behind-the-scenes on a cooking show is not as glamorous as you might think. Hard work and long hours are commonplace on any culinary production. However, there is something extremely satisfying about being able to see the results in the finished product. I've seen a few clips of the show, but I'm looking forward to watching the series when it airs.
J. Newton Ching-He Huang with the Josh Jones Jazz Band at The Palace of Fine Arts
My duties as kitchen manager included shopping for and sourcing ingredients, testing recipes, food styling (making dishes look pretty) and preparing "swap-outs" (dishes in different states of preparation) of host Ching-He Huang's recipes.
J. Newton Making congee at the Manilla market
A large part of my time at the beginning of the production was spent researching and setting up an inventory of ingredients. I made daily trips to Clement Street's New May Wah Supermarket to stock our RV with staples like Shaoxing rice wine, Sichuan peppercorns, fermented black beans and Guilin chili sauce.
Shopping for the show became so tedious that by the end of the production we had a full-time shopper whose sole responsibility was to buy groceries. Yet sometimes we still ran into difficulty finding the right ingredients.
For episode 11, Ching requested fresh rice noodles for her black bean ho fun recipe. Our shopper scoured all of Chinatown and Clement Street, but they weren't in stock anywhere. One store promised they would have a delivery by 10 a.m. the following day, so we moved some things around and waited. At noon, they still didn't have the noodles. In the end we got our hands on some fresh noodles. To be honest, I don't think the noodles were really Chinese ho fun. I think they came from a Thai market. At that point we had been waiting for so long, no one seemed to notice or care.
My days were split between a prep space we rented at Mission Creek Kitchen and various makeshift kitchens on the moving set. The backstage setup consisted of plastic folding tables, portable butane stoves, multiple coolers and several large containers of cooking utensils, props etc.
The production changed locations almost every day, sometimes multiple times in one day. We filmed in restaurants, outdoor spaces, stores and private homes. Some of my favorite culinary locations included the Wok Shop, Manila Market, the Chairman Bao truck and Avedano's butcher shop.
J. Newton La Taqueria
On one trying day, we were shooting outside the Palace of Fine Arts. Ching was grilling and serving lobster with fennel salad to a local jazz band. This was our second location of the day and everyone was exhausted. It was a rare sunny summer afternoon in San Francisco and the park was packed.
The coolers were stocked with several pounds of par-cooked lobsters, multiple batches of coconut marinade, cucumber ginger juice and the ingredients for the fennel salad. I made everything in our prep kitchen in advance.
The culinary team worked in pop-up tents in an attempt to keep the lobster fresh and the salad from wilting. We rigged grills by placing flat Le Creuset grill pans over two propane burners. The wind was blowing so hard that we couldn't keep our burners lit or tools from flying off the table.