Atlanta’s Asian chefs react to controversial photo at Cochon555 food event

Chef Guy Wong. (Beckysteinphotography.com)

Chef Guy Wong. (Beckysteinphotography.com)

A photo taken at a Cochon555 event held this past weekend in Atlanta has been the subject of controversy, leading to apologies from event organizers and participants.

The image depicts Atlanta chef Todd Mussman as a stereotypical Asian, wearing a kimono, conical bamboo hat and costume glasses with slanted eyes. Also posing in the picture are Atlanta chefs Dennis Lange, Andre Gomez and Dameren Parenteau as well as Cochon founder Brady Lowe.

The photo was taken during “Late-night Asian speak-easy” dinner at Muss & Turner’s, a dinner intended to pay homage to the diversity of Asian cuisine.”

While Lowe and Mussman have since issued apology statements, some Atlanta chefs of Asian descent hold mix feelings about the incident.

“Something was taken as jest that probably shouldn’t have been,” said Richard Tang of Char Korean Bar & Grill in Inman Park.  “I think in the world nowadays, political correctness – everyone is taking things a little too far. Sometimes, a joke is just a joke. Was it tasteless? Possibly. I’ve seen worse costumes for Halloween that have not made the newspaper. In our day of over-correctness we’ve gotten super sensitive.”

The New York City-born Tang is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. He has lived in Atlanta for the last 18 years. Tang is the only chef of Asian descent to have participated in this year’s Cochon event line-up. He was not a participating chef at the Asian speakeasy dinner.

“Maybe we should invite people who do Asian food,” Tang added regarding the lack of representation of Asian chefs at that particular event.

Chef Mihoko Obunai was invited to participate but declined due to responsibilities in readying for the opening of upcoming restaurant Nexto. “I was like ‘Well, so what?’” said Obunai regarding her reaction to the photo. “Probably he did it just for fun and joke.”

Like Tang, Obunai expressed more concern about the lack of Asian chefs cooking at the pork-centric dinner than the photo in question. “They should realize the chefs who are into Asian-Japanese cuisine,” she said. “In Asian culture, we eat pork all the time.”

“In this day and age it’s kind of bullshit that it happens,” said Nhan Le of Octopus Bar, Soba and the recently opened 8Arm, who noted the diversity of Atlanta and specifically East Atlanta where Octopus Bar and Soba are located. “I’m surprised they’d do something like that. I think they should be better than that. It’s like me making fun of somebody else. We’re too far beyond that.”

Restaurateur Guy Wong, who competed in Cochon a few years ago, expressed frustration. “I’m disappointed. We still have a long way to go,” he said about cultural respect and inclusion in the culinary world.

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