An agent of alternatives, Erik Bruner-Yang creates space. Through his Washington DC-based concept development company, Foreign National, he offers an alternative: food and space as commons. There exists a constant dialogue of community, culture and progress. His restaurants are instinctual; contemporary yet habitual. Erik Bruner-Yang hopes that Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English, two concepts located in LINE DC, as well as Maketto, will show guests that experiences are the new luxury.
Do you have an intergenerational food story to share?
My relationship with my grandfather has had a huge impact on my life. I was born in Taipei in 1984. After I was born my mother immigrated to Long Beach California like many Asians did at the time. She went solo and for the first few years of my life my grandparents raised me in Taipei. It took my mom a few years to find a stable job, a stable housing situation, and when she felt like she had a good control of a good living environment in the United States for me I rejoined here when I was four. My grandparents made sure to teach me English and Chinese while my mom and I were separated so when I came to the United States I would be prepared. My favorite dish growing up was steamed pork and chinese eggplant with minced pork. Apparently I would want to eat those two dishes everyday. From 2006 to 2010 my grandfather had lung cancer. I went back every year for two weeks to visit before he passed. These trips is what inspired me to open Toki Underground. Every time I visited the very first meal my grandfather would prepare the dumplings and the chinese eggplant with minced pork. It would be my first meal after getting on the plane for every trip. I will always cherish these memories and these dishes.
What does being a part of the LUCKYRICE inaugural dinner series signify to you?
LUCKY RICE is a huge part of my career. LUCKY RICE FESTIVAL in Las Vegas in 2011 was the first national food festival i was involved with. It was the first time that I met so many chefs cooking food that encompassed who they were as people. It was also the first time I met Pichet Ong, who is a huge culinary inspiration of mine and now we work together on a daily basis. None of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the LUCKY RICE food series.
What do you think of the Asian food moment right now?
The best part of the Asian food moment right now is that Asian chefs are finally comfortable cooking with their own point of view and no cooking food they think that “Westerners” would enjoy. With each Asian culture having more generational impact in the United States you really start to see an amazing Asian cooking style really inspired by our experiences in the United States. It is amazing to see so many chefs sharing traditional flavors in more modern point of views.