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Chef Andrew Zimmern shared cooking tips and a recipe for Hong Kong style noodles — along with political commentary — to a University of Delaware virtual audience.
Article by Eric Ruth | Photo by the Biden Institute
Andrew Zimmern is the kind of chef who absolutely loves making people feel happily stuffed with good food, and cheerfully entranced by dining’s cordial charms.
He also doesn’t mind it if they walk away from the dinner table a little peeved — but also more aware of the world’s problems, and convinced that they ought to do something about them.
That unique blend of jolly chef and impassioned advocate was clearly on the menu recently as the host of TV’s Bizarre Foods served up cooking tips with a side of social commentary during a live-streamed Zoom event, sponsored by the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute and Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics’ Department of Hospitality and Sport Management.
The now-bearded (but perennially personable) celebrity chef was multitasking masterfully as he tossed together his stir-fried Hong Kong Style noodles for the virtual crowd, seasoning his demonstration with some piquant observations on the state of the nation at the end of this tumultuous year.
His assessment was unsparing: The government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a national disaster, and Americans are paying the price, he told event host Samantha Vinograd, senior adviser with the Biden Institute. Millions of restaurant professionals have had their lives shattered by shutdowns, thousands of people are still getting sick and still dying, yet the government has seemed disinclined to find solutions, he said.
“With COVID, I think it stripped away the layers of falsity from so many different notions that we may have had about the current administration,” Zimmern said as his wok rose to temperature and his noodles awaited the flame. A nation already drenched in problems, from immigration to food insecurity, suddenly seems adrift and awash in even deeper dilemmas.
“The lack of response to COVID pretty much made everything worse. … Essentially, the government has given up,” said Zimmern, who says his activist streak was fostered by an unrepentantly progressive mother and father. (“Political issues and civic issues of the day were always at our dining room table.”)
Within his own empire of restaurants and social initiatives, it’s been a year of pain, as well as a renewed call to action. Pay cuts and layoffs became unavoidable at his restaurants, but the economic impacts are being felt everywhere from Main Street USA to the farm fields of his current home state, Minnesota.
“We were very concerned when restaurants shut at the beginning of March that we were looking at what I’ve called an extinction event if we didn’t get help,” said Zimmern, who helped establish the Independent Restaurant Coalition as a way to safeguard a crucial industry. Thanks to momentum from Zimmern and others, Congress is considering a bill called the Restaurants Act, which aims to allocate the same kinds of federal bailouts other businesses have already received.
“If the Restaurants Act doesn’t pass, we will lose 85% of the independent restaurants across America,” along with untold numbers of businesses and workers that rely on that industry, Zimmern predicted. “You’re taking these timeless parts of our culture and destroying them. Everyone’s on fumes right now, waiting for that restaurant relief.”
Even when leaders fail, people must not fail to act, he said. “I’ve been talking with my 15-year-old about why charity matters,” and also reminding himself that service to others is part of every chef’s calling.
For Zimmern, that sense of service also flows from his own struggles overcoming addiction, a process of recovery that led almost inevitably to his passion for creating positive change. “It was baked into my DNA,” he said of the service mentality. “It is baked into the DNA of people who cook food.”
He senses more of that selfless spirit in the nation’s soon-to-be president and vice president-elect, but he worries about those things that no election could resolve. “I am both celebratory and thrilled that a lot of our institutions did hold, but we need a lot of healing in our country,” he said.
Then, it was back to the stove and to his virtual cooking partners: Fledgling chefs from UD’s student-run restaurant, Vita Nova. “Get your stuff out and put your wok on a medium burner,” he instructed as he rustled up a memory from his days at Vassar College, when he smuggled a forbidden hotplate into his dorm room.
“I needed my hotplate for the quick 3 o’clock-in-the morning ramen meal, or to heat up my soup,” he said as he tossed and simmered. “If I was in college now and knew what I know now, it would be these Hong Kong Style noodles.”
Satisfied with his creation at last, he proffered a close-up view of the plate to the crowd.
“You’re making me salivate,” exclaimed hospitality student Megan Peters.
“That’s usually what happens,” Zimmern quipped. Mission accomplished.
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Hong Kong Style Soy Sauce Noodles, courtesy of Andrew Zimmern
Link to recipe: https://bit.ly/31t9RVN
Total prep and cooking time is approximately 30 minutes. Serving size is 1 large portion.
1 red Fresno chile, seeded, deveined and thinly sliced lengthwise (or substitute Jalapeno or Serrano pepper)
1 red Fresno chile (or substitute Jalapeno or Serrano pepper)
1 large garlic clove to yield 1 tsp grated garlic
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled to yield 1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
2 TBSP naturally-brewed soy sauce — get a good one!
2 TBSP Shao Xing wine (or substitute sake or mirin — if using mirin, use less than the 2 tsp sugar called for in the recipe)
8 ounces fresh Chinese thin egg noodles or other cooked thin noodle
3 TBSP peanut oil, plus an extra teaspoon if needed
Chinese chives or garlic chives, cut into 2-inch lengths (or substitute scallions) to yield 2 cups
1 cup bean sprouts
Step 1 Prep: Seed, devein and thinly slice chiles lengthwise. Grate garlic and ginger. Cut chives into 2-inch lengths.
Step 2: Combine the Fresno chile, dried chiles, garlic and ginger in a small bowl. Reserve.
Step 3: Whisk the sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce and sake together in a small bowl. Reserve.
Step 4: Separate the noodles with your fingers so they no longer stick together.
Step 5: Preheat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the 3 tablespoons peanut oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot, add the noodles — they should brown immediately. Toss several times.
Step 6: Add 1 teaspoon of peanut oil if the wok is too dry, then add the chiles, garlic and ginger. Toss and cook for a few seconds, then add the chives. Cook, tossing with chopsticks or tongs, for 45 seconds.
Step 7: Add 1/4 cup of water, which will steam the noodles, and cook, tossing for 20-30 seconds.
Step 8: Add the bowl of liquid seasonings and bean sprouts and cook, tossing, until the noodles are cooked through, about 10-20 seconds. The wok should be ‘dry’ at this point. Serve immediately.
Originally published on UDaily.