The food heritage of one’s grandparents is a cultural birthright. Independent filmmaker Kevin Longa embraces his good fortune by cooking and eating with his beloved 97 year-old grandmother whom he calls Pao-Pao (pronounced “Paw Paw”.) Kevin remembers forming an early passion for food and its culture while on vacation with his grandparents at a young age. He experienced firsthand the regional flavors of the foods of China while visiting family relatives who are honeybee farmers in a village outside of Guangzhou, a sprawling port city northwest of Hong Kong considered the birthplace of dim sum. Guangzhou and the surrounding area have a thriving food scene which ignited Kevin’s curiosity and passion. Today Kevin is the creative talent and filmmaker behind a food documentary series called TASTE With Kevin Longa which explores the stories of food entrepreneurs around the world.
Despite the 70+ years which separate Kevin and his grandmother, their close-knit relationship has been affectionately etched across nearly three decades of sharing food. I observed Kevin and his grandma intuitively cooking and talking together in Pao-Pao’s kitchen during a live-stream video test for the TASTE With Kevin Longa, Nom Channel.
Kevin’s Pao-Pao, known as May Lee Chan, moved to Burlingame, California with her parents and siblings in 1932 when she was 14 years old. Pao-Pao’s mother Fong Shee Lee and father Frank Lee opened Lee’s Cafe on Lorton Avenue. It was the first Chinese-American restaurant in Burlingame and they served American food every day of the week except one. On Fridays, the Lees prepared Chinese food, giving local families their first introduction to traditional Chinese dishes like chow mein, chop suey and egg foo yung.
Kevin and his grandmother prepared several traditional Chinese dishes including Jai or Buddha’s Delight, Chinese long beans and water chestnuts, Chinese snow ear soup and Chinese chicken salad. Wait a second — what’s that last dish!? Pao-Pao giggles at the notion that anyone thinks Chinese chicken salad is actually Chinese. Nonetheless, she makes a killer chicken salad and shares her original recipe with a few secret “Chinese” ingredients.
Kevin’s Pao-Pao represents all our collective grandmothers with whom we share unique family legacies of cooking and tasting food. Discover TASTE With Kevin Longa, a documentary series on the stories of international food entrepreneurs, born of Kevin’s own deeply rooted food heritage.
“As always, stay hungry.” – Kevin Longa
- Roast chicken: use half for an entrée, half for chicken salad
- 2 stalks green onion, chopped
- Chinese parsley (coriander) stems removed
- 2 tsp Coleman mustard, ½ tsp water - mix
- 1 or 2 tsp vegetable or sesame oil
- soy sauce to taste
- 1 head romaine lettuce
- 1 TBSP sesame seeds, toasted
- Rice Stick (py mai fun), half a layer from package.
- preserved red ginger
- Shred chicken.
- Mix ½ tsp water with 2 tsp mustard to form paste.
- Pour onto shredded chicken.
- Add oil and soy sauce to chicken. Mix and set aside.
- Chop green onions and Chinese parsley. Add to chicken.
- Chop romaine lettuce.
- Toast sesame seeds (Watch closely. They will burn.)
- Fry the rice stick in at least 1 cup of very hot oil. It will puff up quickly upon hitting the oil. Remove immediately with tongs to a dish and set aside. May uses a wok especially for this step, dipping the ends of her wood chopsticks into the oil until bubbles appear. This indicates that the oil is HOT and ready for frying!
- On a platter, place romaine lettuce, fried rice stick, chicken. Top with sesame seed and preserved ginger.