Once upon a time, the term celebrity conjured up visions of movie stars and superstar athletes, but somewhere along the line, the term deteriorated into something much less exclusive. Nowadays, there are celebrity chefs, celebrity doctors, celebrity hair stylists, celebrity houseguests, and celebrity pets. A guy I know has been described as a celebrity real estate developer. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were celebrity plumbers and celebrity gardeners. But the term really reached an extreme when I was labeled a “celebrity diner.”
I’m not the first person to gain attention for restaurant dining. Morgan Spurlock ate every meal at McDonald’s for a month and made a movie about it, and the discredited Jared Fogel became famous for his Subway sandwich weight loss diet. Before I came along, a man went on a campaign to eat at all 415 Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. So how did I earn my “celebrity diner” status?
Clearly, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time — the right time coinciding with an expansion of public interest in celebrities of all types. Five years ago, I made the acquaintance of food writer Clarissa Wei. I mentioned in passing that I had eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants. Immediately, she jumped on the topic and asked whether anybody had ever written me up. My response was “Why would anybody do that?” In a week’s time, we met for an interview and she wrote an article that was published in L.A. Weekly.
Even after the article was reprinted in the Huffington Post, I didn’t give it much thought. The Huffington Post runs a good number of food-related articles, and I assumed mine would only interest a small group of foodies. However, food columns in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times linked to the Huffington article, which was then picked up by websites like Eater and The Daily Meal. I even received a message from the Smithsonian about its Chinese restaurant exhibit and did an interview with National Public Radio. Gee, my 15 seconds of fame had actually come!
Things really got weird when a few days later, I received a message from my cousin Regina that said my story was featured on People.com. Indeed, it was the lead current news item for three hours, until it was bumped by a piece about Britney Spears. I really couldn’t comprehend why People decided to feature the story, not to mention labeling it with a “Celebrity” heading. Things turned immediately from weird to crazy, as the People article went viral. It was picked up by celebrity, news, and food websites all over the world. Interview requests poured in. The Asia Society invited me to write an article on the Top 10 Chinese restaurants in the US, which itself blew up the internet due to some negative comments I made about the quality of Chinese food in New York. Then came an invitation to visit Springfield, Missouri, responding to the part of the People profile when I mentioned my desire to try Springfield-style cashew chicken. The city whisked me there for a weekend of sampling different versions of that signature Chinese American dish. I even received a key to the neighboring city of Branson from Mayor Raeanne Presley, a distant relative of Elvis himself. Then best of all, I got the opportunity to write for Menuism on a variety of Chinese restaurant topics.
I settled into a new normalcy of writing historically-tinged Chinese restaurant articles for Menuism and doing occasional interviews, including the Chinese restaurant documentary film The Search for General Tso. Little did I realize I’d be in for a second 15 seconds of fame the following spring, thanks to Los Angeles Times reporter Frank Shyong. Frank had not seen the initial round of publicity about me, but in searching for Chinese restaurants to take his visiting parents, he kept running across my name in online restaurant message boards. At some point, he started digging and found my earlier interviews and Menuism articles, and was fascinated that my search for Chinese food was in part a related quest for Chinese-American identity. Several interview sessions eventually led to a front-page article in the Times about this dual quest.
Surprisingly, the 2013 Times article created an even bigger ripple effect than the previous year’s People profile. The reaction from Times readers was so great that an online chat session was set up for the next morning, and lasted three times as long as Frank had planned. Meanwhile, ABC News phoned for an interview which turned into the lead headline on both its website as well as Yahoo! News. Good Morning America called to say it was sending a film crew to my office, though that it was eventually scuttled when GMA and the management of my office building couldn’t agree on insurance arrangements. Somebody even posted a professional quality 90-second video on the Times story on YouTube. Meanwhile, hundreds of people from all over the US tracked down my Twitter account and asked me about the best Chinese restaurant in their hometowns. And even more incredibly, newspapers in Canada and Ohio wrote articles based on my responses to those Twitter questions.
A third 15 seconds of fame came with the theatrical release of the Search For General Tso. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2014, then had a limited general release in 2015, followed by much broader availability on cable and streaming video. The documentary cracked the top 100 streaming videos and garnered my listing in a number of motion picture databases (described as an actor playing myself). To this day, I still run into people who didn’t know I was in the movie and who tell me how stunned they were when they saw me on screen.
Back in the old days, when celebrities were real celebrities, a common description used for them was “star of stage, screen, radio, and television.” Well, I’ve never done live theater, but I have given auditorium and theater presentations on my dining adventures. I was in the General Tso movie, and have even received feelers from an independent filmmaker to be the subject of a documentary short, though that fell through. I’ve certainly had my share of radio and television appearances. So maybe “Celebrity Diner” isn’t so far-fetched after all.
My friends and I were in Las Vegas recently for our annual guys’ trip. One evening we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to try the Bacchanal Buffet. Despite its $60 price tag, we were excited to try it because we heard it was the best buffet in Vegas.
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had heard. As we walked down a long hallway well off the casino floor, we were stopped halfway down by a sea of people waiting in line to enter. You couldn’t even see the buffet from the line’s end!
My friends and I looked at each other and considered our options. On one hand, this was easily a two-plus hour wait. On the other, we all had this buffet on the brain, so eating elsewhere was bound to be a disappointment.
But then fate (and the power of technology) found an answer. My friend Jeremy started typing away furiously on his iPhone and declared, “Hey guys, for $20 extra we can get a front-of-the-line pass!” (more…)
The growth of craft beer over the past decade or more is partly due to the popularity of IPA. The demand for fruity and citrus-forward IPAs has led to experimentation and innovation, including the addition of fruit to IPAs. It seems logical: if the hops in IPA smell like oranges, pineapple, or grapefruit, why not try using the real thing? When Ballast Point Brewing first released its Grapefruit Sculpin IPA, craft beer drinkers loved it. Today, dozens, if not hundreds of breweries make a fruit-based IPA, and the results are delicious.
Here’s a list of nine IPAs, each made with a different fruit, that are well worth trying. (more…)
When people think of Oregon wine tasting, they generally think of the beautiful rolling hills of Willamette Valley, or the vibrant urban winery scene in Portland. But if you take the time to expand your horizons, there are many equally beautiful and worthwhile places to visit around the state.
Eugene, Oregon’s second-largest city, is a wonderful place to visit. Drive just two hours south of Portland, and you’ll experience Eugene’s great hotels, excellent restaurants, and a rich combination of both urban and off-the-beaten-path wineries in the hills surrounding the town.
When you’re ready to check out this politically active, football-obsessed, up-and-coming foodie city, here are some suggestions for your trip. (more…)
As a whole, Los Angeles’s Chinese food scene surpassed New York’s over 20 years ago and continues to pull away. However, you’ll find some things Chinese food-wise in New York that simply don’t exist in Los Angeles, including these four restaurants.
Situated in the Chinese-owned Waldorf-Astoria, La Chine is the type of high-end authentic Chinese restaurant on offer in New York, along with Fung Tu, Cafe China, and Hakkasan. After the demise of Hakkasan Beverly Hills (and perhaps Chi Lin), there are no longer such posh Chinese dining options in LA. Perhaps Los Angeles is just not as much of an expense account town. Sure, it does boast the entertainment industry, but still pales in comparison to New York, with Wall Street, the investment banks, and all the corporate headquarters. (more…)