Photo illustration by Johansen Peralta
Jun 19, 2023
Stacey Mei Yan Fong is Miss American Pie
A new cookbook, '50 Pies, 50 States,' is an exploration of Fong's adoptive home, and a love letter to the people she's met along the way
I met Stacey Mei Yan Fong through a mutual friend a couple weeks ago, and I asked her probably one of the dumber questions you can ask her specifically. I knew she was born in Singapore, grew up mostly in Hong Kong, moved to Savannah, Georgia for college. I know she lives in Brooklyn now. So I asked her where she considers home.
Sounds innocent enough, but that question — the question of home — is the driving force of her new book “50 Pies, 50 States,” just out now. It is also, as the title suggests, a pie cookbook. And an ingenious one at that. In 2016 Fong undertook a wildly ambitious project to design from scratch a pie for every state in the union and dedicate each pie to someone special from each state. She would also travel to as many of those states as possible and absorb the culture, cuisine and folklore of each region to help her inform her pie recipes.
The dedication part is as important as the pies themselves. It is a deliberate exercise in giving her loved ones their flowers while she can.
Fong joins me this week on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” to discuss the notion of home and, of course pies. There are savory pies in her book. Sweet pies. Crazy pies. The New York State pie is an apple pie with a coffee cake crumble. Pretty straight forward. New Mexico, on the other hand, is a green chili stew pie. The Nevada pie is pure chaos. Plus, we play an impromptu game of pie F/M/K.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. You can listen to it in its entirety in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.
I want to lead with my heart here. First of all, shout out to pie. Cake is bullshit. I’m going to go on the record.
I’m a pie over cake person because you can eat pie for every meal. It can be savory or sweet. A savory cake sounds kind of gross to me. And also the thing is bad cake is terrible, but bad pie can still be saved.
Just heat it up. Put some ice cream on it or gravy, I guess.
Exactly. And then it’s still good. Pie, even the worst kind, is still great.
Let’s talk about this project, “50 Pies, 50 States.” You started in 2016. It’s a long time in coming. The impetus in your own words, was, “What if I bake a pie for every single state in America that includes state foods or regional cuisine, and then give that pie to someone I know from that state as a symbol of my affection for them.” That was your self-assigned prompt. Where did that come from? And this is before a book was even glimmer in your eye.
Book wasn’t even on the table. This was just a project that I wanted to give to myself. I was in the process of applying for my green card. And applying for a green card or permanent residency, it’s a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot of interviews. You really question why you’re even doing it because it’s so difficult. And I thought it’d be really nice to do this project. I am a card carrying Virgo, so I love a project. I was like, “What if I did this project where I got to learn more about the country that I’ve chosen to call home through its food?” Because people often travel. They go to Portugal and France and all these other places, and they’re like, “I’m learning so much by eating this food.” And I feel like people barely do that here in the States, even though each state is so different and the food in each state is so different.
So I was like, what parameters can I give myself? And I was like, what if I did it with pie? Since pie is a quintessentially American thing. And it was kind of my blank canvas. I am the type of girl that loves a rom com. I love a Nancy Meyers and a Nora Ephron movie, and I thought, what better grand gesture to this country that I’ve chosen to call home and the people that I’ve made in my home than to bake them some pie?
You don’t just bake a pie. You designed a pie for each state.
Yes. When I started the project, I wrote all the 50 states down and looking at all 50 altogether, it is very overwhelming. So I looked at it. I lived my life three pies at a time. So I would just look at three pies and I would focus on those pies and really think about how can I capture a state as amazing as New Jersey or a state as wonderful as Arizona in the 10-inch parameters of a pie? And I’m not saying with the pie that I made that this is the be-all-end-all state pie. This is my interpretation of what this state is in pie form.
A key component to this, is not only designing a pie for each state, but you’re actually giving the pie that you design or dedicating it in the instance of the book to a specific person. What is that component of it?
I grew up in a Chinese household, and in a Chinese household, it’s not that huggy. You don’t really talk about your emotions. The way you know that your grandparents love you or someone means something as they ask you, “Have you eaten yet?” And they feed you. That is a way that they show affection. Whenever I would go back to Singapore and visit my grandparents, there was always so much food, so many snacks. It was the best. Or there would be a big family fight, but then there would be cut fruit on the table. That’s the olive branch.
I thought with this project I could give the pie to someone that I knew, but I could also flex those muscles of talking about how I feel about them in words, expressing that in a certain way. Because people don’t do that very often, tell their friends how much they love them even though they know deep down inside they really do. And I thought you can soften the blow of how awkward it may be to tell someone that you love them while they eat pie.
But ultimately it was for a person from every state. I can’t say I know someone from every state. How do you pick a person or how do you pick a pie for that person?
I don’t know a person from every state yet.
Have you been to every state?
I have not been to every state. I do have a scratch off map that I scratch off every single time I’ve been to one. There’s a lot I’m missing in the middle. I haven’t been to Michigan or Oklahoma or Kansas, but I’d like to go to all of those states. I’d like to go to every single one. And how I kind of picked is I met a lot of people that were from different states when I went to college in Savannah, Georgia.
But then for North Dakota, North Dakota went to this lady Jane that I literally met in an Uber Pool when I was in L.A. on the way to my sister’s wedding. We both called the Uber Pool together at LAX. She was very confused. She was visiting her daughter. So I was like, “Hey, I think actually we’re in the same Uber Pool. Why don’t you just follow me?” It’s kind of a weird thing to talk to another stranger, but it’s also, “Let me help you out. You look really lost.” And then we got to chatting in the car and then I found out that she did 4H when she was growing up. She lives in Colorado now, but she hosts this pie contest every year, and I hope I find her again through this book because we had a lovely conversation.
Did you dedicate the state to her? Because in the book every state gets its own pie and its own personal dedication.
I did. And I hope that through this book I find her again because we had a lovely conversation in L.A. traffic.
There are savory pies in here. There’re sweet pies. There are chaotic pies, like the Nevada all-you-can-eat buffet pie. I have a couple of Las Vegans near and dear to my heart. One of them was a little offended by the pie. “What is this mess?”
I love that though. I love that it’s going to spark a lot of conversation. Some people might be like, “This is disgusting. Why did she do that?” And honestly, I would be like, “What would you have done? I’d love to know.”
And tell us what it is. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet pie. How do you interpret that?
I didn’t know what to do for Nevada. I was really stumped at how I could capture that state. And how I was introduced to the state was my dad used to work in the hotel business. So we went to Vegas for a vacation. It was my dad’s business trip, but me and my sisters tagged along. And so I was like, “Ooh, what if I captured the Vegas strip in a pie?” So I made an Excel spreadsheet that had all the names of all the casinos on the main strip. And I wrote the common denominators down that were on every single all-you-can-eat buffet. And so I used a cornbread cast iron pan to make the pie crust so that they’re compartments, like chafing dishes on a buffet. Half of it is savory, half of it is sweet. It eats Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail crab legs, a filet mignon with mashed potatoes and that all of that is in an herbed crust.
And on the dessert side of things, it’s ice cream sundae, chocolate mousse, cheesecake and fruit tart and an all-butter crust. Because the thing with Vegas and the thing with Nevada is you can have your pie and eat it too. You can have everything that you want and it’s everything’s in excess and everything’s put in front of you. And I wanted to capture that feeling in a pie. It’s just a little too much.
I need you to back up for just a second and explain to me how you do a Caesar salad pie.
So the crust itself is already baked, fully cooked, but I made it so that it’s all compartments. So I just had to fill the compartments. So I didn’t have to put it in the oven after.
Oh, okay. Yeah, you go to each state like you were saying, and you pick out attributes or the state fruit or things that are native to that state or something from its folklore. I like the South Dakota one where you took cues from the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota tribes and you made a rice pudding pie. What are some of the standout pies for you or experiences in making these pies?
South Dakota, that was a big one for me because I really didn’t know what to do for that state. And it just so happened that the Massachusetts pie recipient, my buddy Matt, he just did a project for a bunch of historians in South Dakota. So I started emailing them, asking them a bunch of questions. They led me to reading Sean Sherman’s book. He’s the “Sioux Chef.” Reading his book really opened my eyes to Native American cuisine. There’s Chinese restaurants everywhere, there’s Mexican restaurants, there’s Korean restaurants. Why can’t you eat Native American cuisine all over this country too? It’s very delicious. It’s seasonal, it’s super interesting in texture and flavor. I’d love to be able to order that on Seamless as well. And I wanted to capture and learn a smidgen of what I could about that state. And I ended up going to South Dakota to deliver the pie to Eric and all of his friends, which is pretty cool.
I’d never been to South Dakota and he was like, “Would you just like to come?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I called my best friend Lauren and I was like, “It’s January. It’s freezing. So flights are really cheap. Would you like to go to South Dakota with me?” And she was like, “Okay.” So we went to South Dakota and they took us around. We went for dinner at Eric’s house. We all got to eat the pie together. That’s the magic part about this project that I didn’t know was going to happen was I would make all these lifelong friends through pie. With Eric, with South Dakota and for Delaware, my roommate of six years, Steph, who is sitting in the other room beside me, I met her through this project.
Without this project, I would’ve never met her. And I met her through Wisconsin pie recipient Brian Casper who did all my branding for my project. I didn’t know anyone for Delaware. And he was like, “Why didn’t you talk to my friend Steph?” Bing. Bang. Boom. She’s my roommate and one of my best friends. I feel like that’s the magic of pie. It sparks conversation. Everybody has tender moments related to pie and everybody at the end of the day, even if they say they hate it, will probably find a pie that they actually like.
I said this in my last podcast: There’s a lid for every pot, and that was a romance oriented discussion. But it’s true for pie.
It’s true for pie.
I’m from California, so of course I had to check out the California pie and I was like, “Artichoke? What?” But I’m not going to lie. It looks really good. I wasn’t anticipating a savory pie, but we’ll take it.
I know. I feel like people automatically was like, “Oh, it’s going to be fruits or it’s going to have avocados on it,” because anything that’s California has avocados on it. A lot of my California memories are tied more to northern California, going to the Napa Valley, hanging out in San Francisco. I love artichokes too. If there’s an artichoke on a menu do I’m going to order it.
I do too.
So I was like, “Okay, what if I did a savory artichoke pie?” And then that’s kind of flat. It’s saucy and it’s stewy, but how can I add back some texture? And so, almond crumble on top. And then I was like, “How can I add a little bit of acidity to cut the creaminess?” So red wine reduction. So it’s a whole meal in one pie slice.
This took you five years in all just to create the 50 pies, right? You started in 2016, and you baked your 50th pie in 2021?
That’s correct. So I took a little break during Covid.
Didn’t we all? And then it took another two years for the book, which I am holding in my hand right now, to come out. What happened in that two year interim? I would imagine somehow a deal comes up and then you have to write the book and then you have to probably tweak some recipes. What was that process?
So 2020 was pretty life changing for everybody. It was very, very life changing for me. I lost my job in fashion during the pandemic. And so I was like, “I’m going to do a hard pivot.” I kind of thought, what am I really excited about? What am I really passionate about? And it was pie. And it was baking and it was food and it’s always been. But I was a really good designer and I found something that paid me well that I was good at, but I was getting really complacent.
But if you’re in a comfortable space, it’s very hard to step out of that comfort zone. But I was like, “Okay, I’ve lost my job. This is the perfect opportunity for me to just try.” So I cold emailed a bunch of bakeries that are in the Brooklyn area and Four & Twenty Blackbirds wrote back to me, which was pretty poetic because I started baking pie because of Four & Twenty Blackbirds. I love that pie shop.
I think it’s the most delicious pie in the city. And before I started the project, when I was feeling really lost, I baked my way through their entire cookbook and learned how to bake pie that way. So they gave me a call back. I did a trial day and they ended up hiring me. So I ended up baking at Four & Twenty Blackbirds for a year and a half, which was really great.
Is it hard to get a job there or do they super have high standards?
No, no. But you had to be skilled enough and then I eventually moved up to ovens, which is a big deal. I survived two Thanksgivings there, which it’s a lot of pie at Thanksgiving.
I think I ordered one from them one year and then another year they were like, “Sorry, we’re—“
Sold out. Yeah. But I’m so thankful for Emily and Melissa [Elsen] for taking a chance on me, for Rico, my supervisor, for hiring me. I still talk to all the girls that I worked with there and I’m still obsessed with Juan who is the best crust maker on the East Coast. I will say that.
Can I make a confession? I was going to save this for later, but my pie confession is that I do not for the life of me have the patience for making a pie crust. Is it sacrilege to tell you that I just go for the Pillsbury store-bought crust?
No. I want you to. If crust is something that stresses you out, then buy your pie crust. The Pillsbury pie crust is great and it’s ready and it’s there for you. If it’s something you want to try your hand at, go for it. People get really bogged down with making something perfect at the end. You’re going to fuck up. With a lot of these pies, when I first started making it, I really messed up and then I figured it out. It’s a lot of trial and error. At the end of the day you’ll still have pie. Whether it’s holding together or not, it’s still pie and it’s fine. I encourage people if that will just make their life a little easier, just do it. No one needs to be stressed out. There’s enough things in the world to stress us out. Pie crust shouldn’t be one of them.
How does this book exist in the world?
So during that time when I was baking at Four & Twenty, Elazar Sontag, who was working at Eater at the time, reached out to me and he wrote a piece about my project, which was really, really special. I believe he found me on Instagram. And so I got a Eater piece and then I did an interview on NPRs “All Things Considered.”
Oh that’s huge. Nothing sells books like “All Things Considered.”
During Thanksgiving with Neda Ulaby, which was so special. Getting an email from her was just absolutely wild. I do think that the funny part about that was when I got NPR, I was freaking out, my friends were freaking out. I told my dad. My dad lives in Singapore. He was like, “Huh?” Everything in context. So I got a cold email from my then literary agent, Christopher Hemlin about representation. And at the same time while I was about to sign with Christopher, I got a cold email from my editor Michael Cerban at Voracious an imprint of Little Brown. You never know where a cold email will get you. It got me a job at Four & Twenty Blackbirds and it got me representation and it got me a book deal. And it was just so special I think to see other people like and love this project as much as I do because I knew that my friends did. But my friends love me. They’re biased. Charlie and Kelsey love me. Of course they’re like, “Yes, this is a good idea and this project is great.” Hearing other people, strangers be like, “Oh my gosh, I ate this food growing up and it’s so crazy that you turned it into a pie.” Or, “I also know someone from Alabama and they also do this.” That’s been so wonderful.
I’m glad you said Alabama because, obviously, I haven’t tried all the pies in the book, but that is my favorite looking pie. It probably suggests that I’m a total basic bitch, but the blackberry peach pie looks so good. That’s the one.
It’s a pretty good intermingling of flavors. I’d say that much. It looks really beautiful. And Alabama was so special because it was pie number one. It was also for my buddy Adam, who’s one of my best friends. And I met him 17 years ago, the first week of college and we’re still friends now. I’m 34. It’s been a long time and he’s still the first person and the last person I talk to every day. That’s a special thing that I got to tell everybody how wonderful Adam is. And also I hope people read his chapter and be like, “I have an Adam in my life too. And he’s just a special because.” He might not be from Alabama. He might be from Arkansas. That’s the wonderful part about this not just being a cookbook but also about the relationships that made this place my home.
That’s a nice segue into your background because it is a recipe book. It does tell a story. In your intro, you talk about home, the notion of home not having a sense of home necessarily or having to create an intentional home. You were born in Singapore, grew up in Indonesia and Hong Kong, college in Georgia. You live in Brooklyn now. So where is home?
It’s so hard to answer. I am the definition of a third culture kid. Everywhere is home, but nowhere really. That feeling of home has always been kind of weird. And I felt it the most when I moved to the States because my friends would go home to their childhood bedrooms. They could still see the bedroom that they grew up in every time they went home for college. Well, as I was going back to a different apartment, a different part of Hong Kong or something like that. And I have just realized that home really is a mindset and it’s the people around you that make a place a home. It’s not really the place itself.
When I was about to leave for college, I had to make this really big decision for myself. And it’s kind of the first decision you make as a quote unquote adult. You decide where I’m going to college, which will put into motion what the rest of your life is going to look like. And I went to a British school in Hong Kong. My best friend Holly was going to school in England. I could have followed her and just been in a really comfortable situation. But I thought, you know what? I’m going to just throw caution to the wind and go to college in America.
I had always wanted to live in New York. I had written myself a letter when I was 15 that I was going to go to Parsons, until I found out how much it was, and I was going to buy a camel peacoat and own an apartment where the elevator doors opened into your living room, like those fancy lofts in Soho. And of course life has its own way of working and the universe does its little magic. And I ended up going to college in Savannah, Georgia.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is no slouch in the field.
Well, the funny way of how I found out about SCAD was I was obsessed with the CW teen drama “One Tree Hill.” In an episode of “One Tree Hill,” a character, Jake, mentions to the art girl character, Peyton, that she should apply to the Savannah College of Art and Design. And my buddy Andrew growing up was like, “You should apply to the Savannah College of Art and Design.” And I was like, “I don’t even know where that is.” So we had to look it up. I had to ask my college advisor in Hong Kong, shout out to Mr. Campion, to get a college brochure for me. I applied. I got a really good scholarship and I was like, you know what? I’m going to move to Savannah, Georgia. I’m going to move from Hong Kong to Savannah, Georgia and I’m just going to take this chance and see what happens. I know it’s going to be really hard, but I’m just going to break myself out of my bubble.
That’s brave. I mean it’s a culture shift from New York to Savannah, much less Hong Kong. Can I ask, how many languages do you have?
So English is my first language. Hong Kong where I grew up and Singapore where I was born, were both British colonies. But I understand and speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Not very well anymore because I’ve lived here for so long and I barely get to talk to anybody but Mandarin and Cantonese.
Were you in Hong Kong during the transfer of power when the UK returned it to China in ’97?
Yes. I was in Hong Kong in ’97 during the handover. And at first nothing really changed. It’s only in the past recent years that things have really shifted. I will say we were in our jaded little bubble where we were one country, two systems. And we just went on with our day. And I can honestly say that growing up in Hong Kong was the most wonderful thing. There’s no other place in the world where you can grow up on the South China Sea. There’s beaches, there’s mountains in the background with the highest skyscrapers in between.
I lived on the south side of the island, which is all beaches and mountains. It’s a little more suburb-y. I guess that’s how you would describe it. It’s a 20 minute bus ride to Central, which is the city center and where my dad worked. How wonderful it is to be able to say that I grew up there and it was so safe that I was taking public transportation when I was little and hanging out with my friends. It was just a wonderful place to grow up where it was really easy also to travel all over Asia. I feel very blessed to say that Hong Kong is one of my homes and I got to grow up there.
Even though it’s called “50 Pies, 50 States,” it starts with a pie recipe for Singapore. There’s one for Indonesia, one for Hong Kong. These are places where you obviously have a personal connection or a sense of home. There’s a Brooklyn pie, which I’m excited to try. It looks intense. Explain the Brooklyn pie.
I added all those pies in at the beginning because I wanted to give the project a little bit of context. Why is this girl doing this? I wanted you to get to know me a little bit before I got to know all of you. So that’s why all those pies came before. And I knew that I wanted to do a pie for Brooklyn and I was like, what can I do for Brooklyn that’s different than the pie that I did for New York? So I think it’d be really fun if I did a pie that was based on my bagel order. Because everybody has a very specific order. And mine is a poppy seed bagel, toasted hard with scallions, cream cheese, lox, and onions. And then I’ll go home and slice lemons and put them inside because it’s kind of bitter, acidic cuts how rich the cream cheese is. And this is something that I learned from my best friend’s mom, Joanne Renaldi, of Fairfield, Connecticut. She taught me to do that and it’s changed the bagel game for me.
Actual slices? You take the rind off or you leave it on?
No. Rind on. You eat the rind. Yeah. It’s bitter.
It’s nice. Yeah.
You say in the intro to your book that you process trauma through baking pies or whenever you’re going through something, you bake a pie. Was there a trauma that was the springboard for this project and why pies?
When I started the project, my roommate of seven years, Patrick, he was moving out. My grandma had just passed away, but I could not leave the country because of my visa status. And then I ended up giving myself shingles because I was so stressed out. I was like, how can I take all of this energy that’s so negative and turn it into something positive? Because you have to feel good when you’re cooking and you have to think happy thoughts because I feel like you can feel it in the food. I know that’s very hokey of me to say. If you are feeling terrible, your food is going to be terrible. So I started baking because it was an easy way for me to process my thoughts when therapy was a little bit too expensive.
By now after this project, I would imagine you have a deeper or at least more deliberate connection to this country than most of the people who actually grew up here. I’m jealous is what I’m saying.
I wouldn’t compare. I feel like it’s a different journey. And I’m not blind to all its faults. I feel like people are always like, “There’s so many terrible things happening.” And I’m aware. I am fully aware, but the thing is we’re constantly getting bombarded by everything that’s terrible. When I was growing up, the only time you heard bad news was the morning news, the evening news, and then it was in the newspaper. But now you’re getting New York Times alerts up the wazoo. It’s on Instagram. You’re seeing things that people are reposting. It’s a lot to process. Sometimes it’s kind of nice to think about the good things, the people that you love, why you love being in Brooklyn so much, or even if Florida is doing things that are very upsetting, it is still the only state that has a national park that’s a barrier reef, which is pretty cool. Sometimes we need a little bit of levity so that we still have hope and want to live here. And I also feel like when all these terrible things happen, a lot of people start putting things into action that will incite change and start conversations that are very, very difficult. We might as well have those difficult conversations while we eat pie to just lessen the blow a little bit.
You were a handbag designer and an accessory designer and now you’re a general manager at Big Night in Greenpoint.
Yes, I am. I’m the general manager of the Greenpoint store and the grocery buyer at Big Night, a dinner party essential store. We just opened our second location in the West Village and basically Katherine Lewin started the first shop in Greenpoint and she wanted a place where you could buy everything you needed to make the dinner and everything to serve the dinner as well because it’s really hard in this country to shop cross categories and she wanted to create a space where you could do that. And I was employee number one.
Was it another cold email?
Another cold email. I emailed Katherine when I’d gotten the book deal and I couldn’t really sustain working at Four & Twenty Blackbirds and write a cookbook at the same time. I needed to make that tough decision and leave the bakery so that I could focus on working at the book. The beauty of a cold email is what are they going to do? Say no? It wasn’t even yours to begin with. So you have nothing to lose and I feel like that’s a great way to look at life. I’ve gotten so many wonderful things because of a cold email. I got a book deal because Michael cold emailed me. I had a literary agent who’s now going to be my lifelong friend because he cold emailed me. I met Katherine and have the job that I do now, which I absolutely love. I get to meet wonderful people through Big Night, both vendor and customer because I wrote a cold email. And I took a massive chance moving to Savannah, Georgia when I was 18 and that was I feel a physical version of a cold email. It has only set off the rest of my life and put everything in motion. And just do it.
And be open.
And be open to it and know there’s going to be hard points, a lot of self-doubt. I’m not saying that I don’t doubt myself constantly, but that’s the beauty of life. It’s the ups and downs, the friends that you find and the people you keep close to you to help you navigate everything.
Yeah, I would say big fan of cold emails. I mean I send them all the time as part of my job and even if only 40 percent of them land and generate any response, it’s the opportunities that unfold are literally life changing and career changing and just growth invoking and all of the above.
Well, because it’s the 40 percent. Those 40 percent of people that have replied to you, they are 100 percent in. You started this conversation. You’ve sparked this interest.
Is there anything you learned about yourself in making all of these pies over the years? Whether it’s perseverance or, something that beyond just learning how to make pies and learning about the states. Something about Stacey.
I learned that when I set my mind to something that I’ll do it. I never half-ass anything. I full-ass all the time. And I also learned that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I just need to lie on the ground. I just lie on the ground for a little while and then I’m okay. Usually my dog’s like, oh my God. She starts panicking. But I’m fine. I think I’ve learned that I’ve gotten really good at expressing in words how much I love someone or how I want to describe my relationship with them. And that’s something that I don’t think I could have done before this project. Emotionally talk to someone and just be like, “Hey, I like you because,” X, Y, and Z, “And you make me feel,” X, Y, and Z and that’s that.
Why is that so hard? I’m in my 40s and I’ve only recently deliberately told some people I do love, “You know I love you, right?” But it takes a drink or two or something.
Exactly. That’s a really tough thing. It’s definitely come from loss, losing someone and them being, like, “shit.”
Got to say it now. Give them their flowers.
You got to say it now. Every single time I hang out with my friends, I say, “Thank you so much. This was the best day.” It’s that easy. And I feel like that’s what I learned. I’m getting choked up, but that’s what I learned.
Oh wow. I’m going to have my first Barbara Walters moment. I haven’t made anyone cry yet. Do you have a favorite go-to comfort pie? That’s probably impossible. It’s like saying, what’s your favorite song?
It’s always apple. In a game of Fuck Marry Kill, I would marry apple.
I wish I had thought of this. You would marry apple. Who would you fuck? Who would you kill?
I feel like I would fuck a strawberry rhubarb because it’s fast and fleeting.
Hell yeah. And it’s kind of sexy.
I would probably kill … Ooh, that’s tough. A chocolate custard pot. I’m not a big chocolate girl. I know that’s very polarizing. I’m a citrus over chocolate. And so I guess I would kill that if I had to kill one, which I don’t want to kill any. But apple, I would marry apple pie. It is always good. It’s always comforting and I really like it with a slice of cheddar. It’s a very Vermont thing. And I learned a phrase that I love so much from my buddy Pete. His grandpa said it all the time, and it was, “A pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” Eating a slice of apple pie with sharp cheddar where it cuts the sweetness, adds a little bit texture. It’s so delicious. It’s apple pie. It’s the most comforting. The one that you would take home to your parents and introduce them.
A favorite cuisine from your Hong Kong days or your Singapore days or your Indonesia days?
I feel like if it’s Singapore, it’s got to be laksa. It’s like a spicy seafood coconut-y broth thing. And the fun story I have tied with laksa is when my mom was pregnant with me because she couldn’t eat laksa while she was pregnant with me because it had cockles in it. And when I was born, I drooled all the time. Most of the photos from the first two years of my life, I’m wearing a bib over very nice dresses because I’m drooling all the time, like a Bassett hound. Once I got to eat laksa for the first time, I stopped drooling. So that’s a fun story that my dad likes to tell. And then if it’s Hong Kong, it’s dim sum and it’s also cha chaan teng cuisine, which is Hong Kong style diners where Hong Kong people tried to interpret western cuisine.
I love stuff like that.
So the Hong Kong pie is dedicated to a macaroni soup that is served at a cha chaan teng.
I saw that in the book and I was like, “that is the craziest pie I’ve ever seen”
Because they’ve never really seen people cook pasta al dente. So the macaroni is absolutely hammered, but it’s so delicious and it’s so comforting to me. That would be Hong Kong and Singapore.
I understand you’re a Dolly Parton fan.
I love Dolly Parton so much. So much so that for my 30th birthday, my friends took me to Dollywood. They flew me to Dollywood.
I would love to go to Dollywood.
And I just want to say the testament to how wonderful Dollywood was, was I was peak happy and I was stone cold sober. There is no booze, nothing. And I was smiling so hard that my cheeks were aching. I cried so hard when I got to see every single one of her looks she’s ever worn in one place. And this is coming from a girl that grew up on the South China Sea. I did not understand what a Tennessee Mountain home was, but when I listened to that song, I understood how it made everybody else feel and how it made me feel. And I just think she is incredible. She’s so smart and she really doesn’t care what anybody thinks. And she just does what she wants. She’s a real classy lady. If I could be half as classy as she is, I would be very happy with myself.
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