When Moon Rabbit chef Kevin Tien saw the recent reports of elderly Asian Americans being attacked—and even killed—while going about their daily lives, he didn’t just see vicious hate crimes. He saw victims who could easily be his parents and grandparents, friends and colleagues.
“Since Covid started, we have chef friends in LA who’ve been threatened,” says Tien, an American of Vietnamese descent. “Even talking to my staff who’re Asian in background, they are scared walking around in public because of these random attacks. Everyone is worried about their mom and grandmas.”
Attacks on Asian Americans have been on the rise in the pandemic, fueled by racism, xenophobia, and many argue, President Trump and his “China flu” rhetoric. Stop AAPI Hate, a national nonprofit organization that tracks and addresses discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic, has reported over 2,808 incidents since March of last year. Recently in Maryland, four Asian American businesses were looted and vandalized at the start of Lunar New Year. (Police are investigating whether the crimes were racially motivated or part of a larger burglary spree.) Even before the pandemic hit, local Chinese restaurants like Peter Chang reported a severe drop in business when the Covid-19 outbreak first started in Wuhan in January 2020—partly due to misinformation and fear that the virus was somehow more prevalent in Chinese businesses than others.
Lydia Chang, the daughter and business partner of chefs Lisa and Peter Chang, is one of the founders along with Tien of a new dinner series: Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate. Each week, five different chefs and restaurants will contribute dishes for a takeout feast that feeds two and costs $150—most of which will be donated to Stop AAPI Hate after the businesses have been reimbursed. (Some participants, like Maketto’s Erik Bruner-Yang, are choosing to donate their portion.) The idea started as a single Mission Michelin supper club that will be hosted by Kyley McGeeney at Q by Peter Chang on March 25 with Tien, Bruner-Yang, Lucky Danger chef Tim Ma, and Yuan Tang of Rooster & Owl (you can buy tickets via Tock). Then the idea “completely snowballed,” says Tien.
Tien has signed on over 45 top DC chefs and restaurants to participate in the weekly Sunday dinners starting April 4. As of now, all meals will all be picked up from Moon Rabbit at the Wharf. The long list of participants can be found on the website. Talents include many Asian and Asian American chefs like Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca (Pogiboy), Seng Luangrath (Thip Khao), Henji Cheung (Queen’s English), Rose Nguyen (Rose Ave Bakery), and Jong Son (Tiger Fork). It also includes many allies in the restaurant industry like Amy Brandwein of Centrolina, Michael Rafidi of Albi, James Wozniuk of Makan, and the team at Tail Up Goat.
Tien says he’s also working with organizations outside if DC to hopefully bring the dinner series to other cities like Philadelphia. If there’s enough interest, Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate may continue in Washington through June.
“In Asian culture, we don’t always speak up. It’s a whole ‘model minority’ thing, and that can’t be the case anymore,” says Tien. “If we try to be a model minority, we’ll never change how racism is viewed.”