The crowd at Shady Oak Barrel Home on a modern Friday night noshed on skewers of lemon grass beef and rooster satay, sampled Laotian sausage in banh mi and slurped bowls of khao poon, a hen noodle soup.
Chef Keo Xayavong sold out of everything at his pop-up, which coincided with the start off of Songkran, the Lao New Yr. The banh mi had been the most well-known product, but he received a ton of people to check out the soup — rice vermicelli noodles cooked in a complex sweet-and-bitter broth of pink curry and coconut milk infused with the heady aroma of lemon grass and makrut lime (also identified as kaffir lime).
“Pop-ups have been huge,” Xayavong said. “It will allow individuals like myself to showcase yet another ethnic delicacies you really do not usually have at places to eat and do much more genuine food stuff. I’m actually delighted to showcase my society.”
A lot of men and women previously have tried using Laotian cuisine without the need of at any time acknowledging it, Xayavong noted.
“A large amount of Lao food has been hidden on Thai menus,” he explained. “Lao immigrants would come below and open up dining places but label them Thai places to eat mainly because, at the time, Thailand was additional effectively-known.”
For example, the papaya salad on the menu at Savor, the Vietnamese cafe on Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa where we fulfilled to chat, is ubiquitous on menus at Southeast-Asian eating places, he claimed. But Xayavong included, its origin is “true Lao.”
So is laab, or larb as it’s sometimes created on Thai restaurant menus. He explained the Lao alphabet has no r.
“It’s the countrywide dish of Laos,” he claimed. “It’s primarily a minced-meat salad built with aromatics: lemon grass, kaffir lime and galangal, which I get in touch with the Southeast-Asian mirepoix.”
Xayavong, a 41-year-aged father of four, chatted about the intersection of food stuff, Southeast-Asian geopolitics and the thought of authenticity. It’s a subject at the forefront of his cooking, many thanks in aspect to staying in an interracial relationship with combined-race young children.
There’s a perception of pleasure understanding that more and extra persons are taking an interest in Laotian cuisine, he reported. He is “Laod and very pleased,” he mentioned, with a wide smile.
But sharing the delicacies of their homeland was not usually straightforward for his loved ones when he was expanding up. Like several immigrants, Xayavong understands acquiring other folks label your foodstuff as “smelly” or “weird” or even just judging it with a look of veiled disgust is hurtful, not only personally but to the broader gains of cross-cultural trade.
“We isolated ourselves, unintentionally,” he said of the limited-knit Southeast-Asian neighborhood he grew up in. “It was a cultural mindset. We have been in dread of introducing it to the exterior earth and retained food to ourselves somewhat.”
Adapting culinary traditions
Xayavong’s household moved to Humboldt County in 1985, just as he turned 4 a long time aged. He was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in which his family members fled at the conclude of the United States’ “secret war” in Laos. They settled in Eureka together with refugees from neighboring Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
“Every perform revolved all over foodstuff, and that’s how I bought my enjoy of food items … watching the grown-ups cooking,” Xayavong reported. “During gatherings, I would play with friends, but for the most element I was in the kitchen area seeing older people prepare dinner.”
It was in the course of these formative yrs that he realized both the necessity and delight of culinary adaptation.
“One of my fondest memories is looking at asparagus for the to start with time,” he mentioned. “In the East, asparagus is just not native. We’d use it like bamboo shoots mainly because the texture was really familiar, and fresh bamboo was virtually unachievable to find. We known as them ‘the foreigners’ bamboo shoots.’ We experienced no name for it.”
In Laos, river moss is a common food items, he stated. For awhile, his spouse and children harvested it from rivers in Humboldt County, but worries about the cleanliness of the drinking water drove them to try out spinach rather.
“We figured out cooked spinach experienced the same texture of river moss,” he said. “We ended up employing cooked spinach and blending it in a blender, which naturally we by no means applied before. We often utilized mortar and pestle.”
Xayavong mentioned his spouse and children utilised the spinach in a soup that, in Laos, is created with snails.
“That’s two dishes that staying in this article in the western earth gave us the chance to make new discoveries,” he said. “Everybody’s looking at the similar photograph but is seeing some thing various, you know? We saw the exact spinach and we observed the similar asparagus, but we observed anything different.”
That is a way of thinking he’s carried with him through his vocation as a chef. He created a love for sushi early on, learning the ropes at a sushi cafe in Sacramento before moving to Sonoma County, wherever he ran the sushi bar at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. Afterwards, with chef Ed Metcalfe, he opened Shiso restaurant in Sonoma. The pair now have Sushimotos, a cellular sushi bar and catering business.