Near and Far 2022: Cool Ideas, Hot Food

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Tu David Phu: The Way Home

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"To create change there needs to be inspiration in some shape or form, whether through art or music…in food, it starts with chefs and food producers"

Chef Tu David Phu, the son of Vietnamese refugees who grew up in an Oakland food desert, went the culinary school route and worked in the kitchens of such vaunted US restaurants as Chez Panisse, Gramercy Tavern, Daniel Boulud and Gotham Bar & Grill. But he had to unlearn a lot of what he absorbed to rediscover the value of his Vietnamese food roots—especially the skills and knowledge of his mother, a seamstress from the island of Phu Quoc.

At Near and Far 2022: Cool Ideas, Hot Food, Tu will give the talk “My Mother’s Cuisine: A Generations-Old Culinary Repertoire,” which recounts his journey from hot shot chef (he was on Top Chef in 2017 and helmed Gather in Berkeley) to food activist and entrepreneur—guided not by hustle culture but by his complex family heritage and mother’s innovative, frugal ways to make a delicious meal, developed as a survival tactic. No fishhead left behind!

Tu also co-produced an Emmy-nominated documentary about his journey—watch Bloodline before hearing him speak at the conference, to get the most out of what he has to say. He spent some time with us answering questions before walking his dog Chestnut, whom he shares with his Hawai‘i-born wife (and kim chee genius) Jean.

In Bloodline, viewers learn you grew up steeped in family food culture, yet you didn’t fully value what you learned from your parents, especially your mother, until after you did the whole culinary school thing. It is deeply moving. Any advice for aspiring cooks and food entrepreneurs here who might look to California and New York for inspiration, when they perhaps could mine their own Asian or Pacific Islander heritage?
Well, I would never shame the Ivan Ramens of the world, what they do is beautiful. But everyone comes from a beautiful story, if you don’t write it, who will?

You are a champion of circular economies—a system that eliminates waste and pollution, circulates products and materials at their highest value, and regenerates nature. Do you feel food entrepreneurs are, or can be, at the forefront of this concept?

We live in an economy where we try to quantify and monetize everything. It’s a way of thinking that is a complete disconnect from Mother Nature. Indigenous communities put nature first, while we quantify it—it’s very Manifest Destiny, Christopher Columbus, the global economy is based on it. What’s the word—anthropocentrism, where humans are seen as superior to nature.

Some farming friends taught me a lot about circular economy. I didn’t see it in other places like my mom’s generational wisdom. Mainly because I had implicit bias that stuff like that was word of mouth, and innovation needs to be proven in a lab. You learn things in school because they came out of a book or from your teacher.

To create change there needs to be inspiration in some shape or form, whether through art or music…in food, it starts with chefs and food producers. Everyone from Alice Waters to David Chang, they can really sway the economy and create global movement for people to want to eat, purchase, and live ethically with the ecosystems that we have. It’s a great starting point but I always make sure that I don’t give people short-ended answers, because we have to fight he bigger beast. The key is having legislation, encouraging our government representatives to pass bills that help fund regenerative, circular economies and support indigenous food makers and customs. At end of day we need to talk about resources—if they aren’t shared, it’s difficult to make an impact. I work with the city of Oakland to create change. I’m like [bleep] you Salesforce, [bleep] you Silicon Valley, you’ve extracted a good chunk of our community, what are you going to do for us? I want to get to the negotiating table.

For your family members, the very concept of socialism is probably repugnant, due to the horrors they lived through. Yet your dedication to circular economies and zero waste operations are in line with new, contemporary types of socialist systems. Do you see food and food industries as powerful ways to help move the dial toward a more progressive, equitable government, and how do you communicate about that with your parents?
It’s impossible not to be political when you talk about food. It’s all interconnected. You have to study politics, it illustrates how we eat. However, I was proudly a Toastmaster member, and if I learned anything from Toastmaster it was to know your audience. I try not to talk about politics, but it’s embedded in the stories and food.

The way I try to relate to people is not by taking political sides—I try to get people to relate to my understanding of the form of human decency. Same as when I have to talk about racism. I am inspired by James Baldwin, who talks about racism as the human condition and how it relates to Black identity. How there is a lack of human decency toward Black people. I try to do that with everything I do, especially related to social justice. Is it reasonable? Does it treat human beings decently? I have found hypocrisies in our political system on the left, right, and middle. But I guess that’s what our governing systems are for.

My parents both have PTSD. I found that I don’t speak to them about [the political aspects of food] because it’s triggering for them. I try to come from a place of understanding and listening. Because it’s only productive if the person you’re speaking to is willing to listen to you. Unfortunately I can’t do that with my parents because the frequency of trauma has been way too high and damaging. In that sort of aspect I have to ask myself, by having these conversations with my parents, am I being reasonable with them? Am I being decent? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not.

But I think that’s where the inspiration starts. That’s where people will create the narrative and start the movement.

What does it take to run a zero-waste kitchen? It sounds so hard. And why is it important for more food operations to embrace the concept?
I’m not a fan of the term—it’s kind of impossible to do. It’s unobtainable. As long as there’s a conscious effort to strive towards that concept, that is what is important. It is less about being zero waste and more about participating in a circular economy, and being regenerative. Everyone needs to participate, it’s the only way we can effect change.

What do you do with the organization Postelsia, which aims to foster a more sustainable seafood industry?
My skills as a storyteller and chef come into play to help them move sustainable seafood knowledge forward. We just did a campaign with a Japanese trade organization around efforts to sustainably farm Kagoshima yellowtail.

It sounds like on Phu Quoc, in cooking everything is utilized, even in flush times. In America, where throwaway culture is embedded deep, do you think it is possible to instill the kind of sense of value in even the smallest scrap as found on Phú Quốc? Or will it take a major disaster for a critical mass of people to finally reduce, reuse, recycle? In effect, finally care out of matter of survival.
It’s a quality unique to a lot of pre-industrial area generational wisdom. My parents existed in a culture where they grow things themselves. We come from a culture of disposal because we have somebody who can do that for us. We can get on Amazon five toothbrushes for five bucks, delivered the same day. That’s one aspect of it. In addition, Phú Quốc came from an era of war, [people from there] are victims of war. Because of that people appreciate and value life’s regular amenities on a daily basis to the extreme. For people to truly appreciate and fully use what they have, it’s going to take either a disaster or you can start growing your own stuff and be more connected to those things. If we can inspire people to do that we can go in the right direction.

I care for the unspoken for, the marginalized. That’s who I’m fighting for. The upper echelons, great if they are on board, but I the rest of the population of the world to have accessibility to the land.

Eater’s article on your banh mi pop up that you opened in fall 2019 in Oakland talked about how people balked at paying $10 for a sandwich, and you in turn highlighted how POC cuisines are expected to be cheap, regardless of the work and cost that goes into them, as well as the cost of paying food workers a living wage.
Right after that article came out, the pandemic happened and now people truly understand how thin of a thread it is for people to work in the hospitality industry. So in your face everyone who [criticized me] for wanting to pay my employees equitably.

It sounds like you are not involved with any restaurants or pop-ups at this time, yet successfully continue to build your culinary career. As we all know, the pandemic shined a light on the pitfalls of the restaurant industry. Any advice to young cooks about forging alternative career paths in food?
Per my banh mi pop up and other attempts to create a restaurant—I couldn’t find a formula that was economically viable in Bay Area. Now almost all my cooking is for nonprofits–I am channeling that for community purposes. I did a Juneteenth [event—the Black and Asian Solidarity Supper in Oakland] and we just did a dinner at Refettorio San Francisco, a food hub of the organization Food for Soul founded by Massimo Bottura. The first seating was for people who are housing- and food-insecure in San Francisco, who could come in and have a free, good, nourishing meal. Then the second seating is ticket buyers, who get the same meal. There are a lot of creative ways to cook for community. That’s where I find the most value, when I’m bringing community together through food.

Bryan Mayer

Maui Nui Venison & Savory Institute - Land to Market

Bryan Mayer is with Maui Nui Venison and is at the forefront of the craft butchery movement. He has lectured and conducted workshops with the James Beard Foundation, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, American Grassfed Association, American Lamb Board, Culinary Institute of America, and Savory Institute, in addition to his consulting work with farmers, slaughterhouses, and processors, throughout the US and the world.
Bryan has been featured in and written for Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Esquire, Men’s Health, and appeared on Tasting Table, Eater, Jezebel, and the Rachel Ray Show. He wrote the “Ask Your Butcher” column for Zero Point Zero’s Food Republic.

Pomai Weigert

AgBusiness Marketing Consultant with GoFarm Hawaii

Pomai Weigert is an AgBusiness Marketing Consultant with GoFarm Hawaii, a statewide program that develops new farmers & provides business support for ag-related businesses. She serves as an advisor for the Hawaii Agritourism Association and is a board member for the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii and Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. She is currently on the Hawaii Tourism Authority Destination Management Action Plan steering committees for Maui & Hawaii Island and works in partnership with HTA & County governments to develop agritourism capacity for the state.

Dave Evans, PhD, CHIA, CHE

Professor and Department Chair Hospitality and Tourism Education Department Kapi‘olani Community College

Dave Evans has been working in the travel and tourism industry for more than four decades and has been in higher education at Kapi‘olani Community College since 1994. He started his career managing hotels and held many key hospitality roles at Outrigger Hotels and Robert’s Hawaii, serving as a general manager, director of operations, and director of marketing for a national franchise operation.

As a professor, and now department chair at Kapi‘olani Community College’s hospitality and tourism education department (HOST), Evans has taught a wide range of courses related to destination development, hotel operations management, revenue management and strategic leadership. The HOST program emphasizes the importance of regenerative tourism with a specific focus on perpetuating indigenous cultures unique to destinations.

Helena Norberg-Hodge

Local Futures Institute, founder

Linguist, author, and filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge will share her ideas about localism and her vision for an “economics of happiness.” Hodge is also the founder of international non-profit organization Local Futures, a pioneer of the new economy movement and will speak about revitalizing cultural and biological diversity and strengthening local communities. Her latest book is Local is Our Future: Steps to an Economics of Happiness.

Dabney Gough

Director of Engagement, Farm Link Hawaiʻi

Dabney Gough oversees marketing, customer support, and community partnerships at Farm Link Hawaiʻi, an online portal that connects local growers and buyers via their innovative online marketplace and supply-chain infrastructure, making it easy for Oʻahu families to discover and purchase local food. Gough has held marketing leadership positions at Whole Foods Market, San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, and Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Mike Pollard

Owner, Honoka’a Chocolate

Mike Pollard and his wife Rhonda moved to Hawaii from Southern California over a decade ago. Mike grew up in central California on his family’s farm. Upon graduating high school, his dad, Ken, proposed that he either take over the family farm or attend college. Mike chose the college route and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Having worked in aerospace and defense for most of his career, Pollard most recently was a Senior Engineer at the W.M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Big Island. Returning to his farm roots however, Pollard and his wife purchased Kahi Ola Mau Farm, and over the course of five years, turned it into the beautiful place that it is today and started making delicious chocolate. Now Mike flies his dad to Kahi Ola Mau Farm twice a year for special projects that require his ‘expert’ touch.

Kevin Yim

VP of Marketing, Zippy’s

Kevin Yim is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications for FCH Enterprises, the parent brand of Zippy’s Restaurants and its affiliated companies. Prior to Zippy’s, he led marketing teams at other iconic Hawaii brands, such as Hawaiian Airlines and Bank of Hawaii.

Adam Watten

Director of Food Systems, Common Ground / Culinary Manager, CG Ventures

Committed to building robust local food systems, Adam Watten is an expert in vertical supply chain integration and product procurement. As an entrepreneur and Executive Chef he brings decades of experience in the food industry to the Common Ground team. His expertise in vertical supply chain integration is evidenced in his founding of Hanai Market, a local food retail outlet that exclusively sold Kauai-grown and Kauai-made products to the local market.

Ryan Ozawa


Ryan is a native Hawaiian journalist, writer, and startup founder based in Honolulu. With over 25 years of experience in making media, Ozawa is a regular contributor to every major media outlet in the Aloha State, explaining and promoting local technology and innovation. He is a tech columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and he publishes Hawaii Bulletin, a Meta-funded newsletter. An independent business and technology consultant, he is also the Pacific News Editor for Decrypt, a Web3 news outlet. At the University of Hawaii, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of Ka Leo O Hawaii, the then-daily campus newspaper.

Kūhiō Lewis

CEO, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

A graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi Kūhiō Lewis is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA). Under Lewis’ leadership, CNHA expanded its services to the Native Hawaiian community and the broader public through the establishment and administration of the Hawaiian Trades Academy, the online marketplace Pop-Up Mākeke, the KūHana Business Program, and nationally-recognized emergency rental and mortgage assistance programs. Lewis has grown CNHA’s annual budget to $90 million and oversees over 100 employees statewide. CNHA was recently awarded a $100 million multi-year contract to boldly transform Hawaiʻi’s chief economic driver, tourism, towards a regenerative model.

Ed Kenney


Hawaii chef/restaurateur, founder of FoodShed Community Kitchen which provides incubator kitchen space for small local food-centric businesses and host of PBS Food’s national food/travel/genealogy series, Family Ingredients.

Alan Wong


Wong is one of 12 co-founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine who collaborated together over three decades ago to create and promote a new American regional cuisine, highlighting Hawaii’s locally grown ingredients and diverse ethnic styles. In 1996, Wong was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific Northwest and Santé Magazine honored him as Chef of the Year in 2007.

Tu David Phu: The Way Home

Food Entrepreneur

Katie Chin left a career as a Los Angeles film and TV marketing executive to follow in the culinary footsteps of her mother—creator of the Minnesota Chinese restaurant chain Leeann Chin. Today Katie is a food entrepreneur, the author of five cookbooks, owner of Wok Star Catering, and makes frequent TV appearances (Live with Kelly & Ryan, The Real, The Today Show, ABC’s Localish). She livestreams Cooking with Katie and Becca on Facebook with her daughter every Sunday and will soon take her talents to the stage with the one-woman show Holy Shitake: A Wok Star is Born.

Katie is the co-chair of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s #AAPILA Task Force.

Jeremy Umansky

Chef, co-author Koji Alchemy:Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation

Chef/owner of Larder: A Curated Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland, Ohio, nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the Best New Restaurant in America in 2019. He was named “The Deli Prophet” by Food & Wine in the March 2019 Makers Issue.

Rich Shih

Koji explorer, co-author: Koji Alchemy:Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation

One of the leading culinary explorers of koji and miso in the United States and an in-demand food preservation consultant. He is also the Exhibit Engineer for the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) based in New York City.

Eric Kim

New York Times journalist, author: Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home

Kim was previously the digital manager at Food Network and a senior editor at Food52. He now hosts regular videos on NYT Cooking’s YouTube channel. A former contributing editor at Saveur, Kim also taught writing and literature at Columbia University, and his work has been featured in The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, and Food & Wine.

Tu David Phu

Chef, filmmaker: Bloodline

From the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Daniel back to finding his roots in the first tastes of his mother’s cooking, Chef and filmmaker of Emmy-nominated Bloodline, Tu David Phu shares about his food journey and the importance of knowing who you are and where you came from. His family has produced small-batch artisanal Phu Quoc Fish Sauce, considered the Champagne of fish sauces, since 1895.