Shirley Chung prepares a dish at Michael Muller’s HEAVEN presented by The Art of Elysium on January 5, 2019 in Los Angeles.
Phillip Faraone | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
When the pandemic hit, chef and reality TV star Shirley Chung quickly turned her restaurant business to deal with the crisis.
Dealing with anti-Asian hatred was a different matter.
When she recently heard of alarming racist incidents and hate crimes across the country, including the murder of six women of Asian descent near Atlanta in March, Chung felt the need to speak up.
“Everything that happened was so close to our hearts,” said the 44-year-old about herself and the cooking community in Los Angeles.
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Chung, a finalist on Bravo’s reality show Top Chef, also suffered incidents at the Culver City, Ms. Chi Cafe, California restaurant that she and her husband own. Their non-regular guests questioned cleanliness despite disinfecting tables in front of them. The back door was graffiti. In response, Chung added additional cleaning services and installed security cameras to keep her customers and employees safe.
More recently, someone has stolen a to-go order straight from the counter, threatened her husband Jimmy Lee, and shouted racist statements.
“It made me want to get louder and really share my experience,” said Chung, who was born in Beijing and immigrated to the United States at the age of 17.
While the couple’s parents wanted them to stay calm out of fear for their safety, Chung said noise will draw attention to the plight of Asia-American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and the impact of hatred on their businesses.
“We don’t want to be silent anymore,” she said. “We want to lead by example and let our parents see that it’s okay. Now is our time.”
When Covid first met, Chung was quick to make adjustments to her business.
“That was the only way to survive,” she said.
When it reopened, she started shipping her frozen dumplings again to Goldbelly, a gourmet grocery company. Her orders tripled within the first week and she knew she was up to something. She has expanded her offering and now has a full-fledged business. She also started doing digital cooking demonstrations.
While trying to find solutions, she started speaking to other local chefs to exchange ideas.
“Through these conversations, I realized that many AAPI owners and chefs did not have access to many things that ‘mainstream’ restaurants and chefs are used to, from government grants and updated guidelines to social media platforms to promote their business, “said Chung. Author of “Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen”.
She began helping her AAPI business owners by sharing new guidelines and suggesting that they join the Independent Restaurant Coalition. She also helped lesser-known restaurants get onto platforms like Goldbelly to increase their income, she said.
In March, Chung participated in the LA Food Gang’s “Let’s Eat Together” fundraiser, which raised nearly $ 60,000 for difficult AAPI restaurants.
This Sunday, Chung will also be part of a week-long event called Pop Off LA, where select Los Angeles restaurants collaborate on unique creations. A portion of the proceeds will go to nonprofit organizations that will hire troubled Asian restaurants to prepare meals for AAPI organizations.