Libra. My Chinese zodiac sign is the Tiger.
I went through a huge cycle of emotions, especially earlier in the year because I felt stuck here due to the pandemic. Having since made the decision to stay put, it feels good to exercise some self-determination again, wrest some control back from Covid, and I'm excited to establish a sense of belonging for myself here in Sydney.
I think being born into a Chinese family. My obsession with food kind of runs through my veins so it's hard to pin down a starting point beyond when I started to eat.
Family Meal is a project I started in the midst of Covid as a way to cook for others, experiment and create for myself, and raise money as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. It's an intimate delivery/pick-up meal service on Sundays in which I prepare a 4-5 piece set meal from a different culture/cuisine every week. $10 from every meal is donated to charity. Recipients have been mostly First Nations organisations but I've also been able to donate to relief efforts for the Beirut explosion and Californian wildfires.
I actually transitioned from commercial law to food well before the pandemic, when I moved to New York in 2015. There wasn't necessarily a specific catalyst for this transition, except that I always knew I didn't belong in commercial law. My move to New York allowed me to start this new career, free from any perceived judgment from people who knew me in Sydney. Certainly, the pandemic has cemented for me a deeper appreciation for food and cooking as a means to give and connect with others on a very physical, fundamental level, even during the most challenging moments.
Honestly, it is not easy, and I always finish each week feeling somewhat inadequate as there remains so much out there to read, explore and understand. I think doing research about the history and culture behind a cuisine or dish is so important to pay respect to the people and communities behind each cuisine. Of course, this isn't realistic when it comes to cooking dinner on a weeknight, but I guess my tips would be to be curious, research your cookbooks, talk to friends about foods they grew up eating and make an event out of experimenting with a different cuisine or dish every week. Bring friends, family or housemates into the process and have your own family meal!
This is a big topic which I'm continuing to process and wrap my head around. We all understand food for its ability to bring people together, but what's becoming increasingly obvious is that the way we treat food, how we cook with it and talk about it, especially food of other cultures, has the capacity to cause great harm. We often forget the political nature of food; how it shapes who we are as individuals, and the cultural framework of a community or culture. One's relationship with food or a cuisine can say a lot about who we are. It's the one way in which many people, like myself, have maintained a connection to their heritage, even while being born into a white-dominant society. In the context of cultural appropriation, we see the harmful potential of food play out in white chefs adopting the food of POC, taking credit and failing to uplift those who actually represent those cultures, whose identity is deeply tied up into that cuisine. From a socioeconomic perspective, food access and security plays a big role in the class divisions that exist in our society. Yes, food gathers people together, but this gathering is often on unequal terms, and in many ways, food can operate to embed social inequity. I've been grappling with issues like this throughout Family Meal, given it has been an experimental platform for me to cook food that is not of my culture.
I'll be putting Family Meal on hold soon as there are some big projects on the horizon, but I plan to return to it in some way or another, hopefully by incorporating its ethos into some of these new projects.
Here are some pics of Xin's Family Meals:
Cafe Freda's was conceived by Dave Abram (who owned the old Freda's Bar) and Carla Uriarte. We opened on New Year's Eve. It's a mighty role but one I'm really excited about, mainly as it allows me to develop relationships with, and support the work of like-minded producers, suppliers, farmers and other ethically-run small family businesses. We're using the best ingredients and produce to create a small, playful and dynamic menu that is not too fussy nor serious, and through which my team and I can continue to experiment and learn.
Some pics of Xin's food at Freda's:
Xin with Dave and Carla from Freda's: