AS an auteur who made his name with films documenting the Chinese immigrant experience in American society, Wayne Wang understands the important role that food plays in the stories he tells.
'The dinner table is where most family interactions take place,' he says in an email interview. That is why 'a lot of important scenes in my Chinese American films take place at the dinner table'. As an example, check out one of his latest films, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, at the upcoming Singapore International Film Festival, where 'almost all the scenes between the father and the daughter happen over the preparing/eating/cleaning up of a meal'.
With his finger on the Chinese diaspora in America, it's not surprising to learn that the Hong Kong-born, American-Chinese director's favourite food is that of his heritage. 'Chinese food is in my blood,' he says.
But the 59-year-old San Francisco resident also belongs to the growing breed of foodies who believe in treating ingredients with respect and preparing them as naturally as possible.
'I was living in Berkeley when Alice Waters started Chez Panisse,' he explains. 'Her emphasis has always been on using local, natural ingredients and not fussing too much over them. She uses simple techniques and spices to bring out the best of the ingredient.
'I've been strongly influenced by her cooking philosophy,' he adds. 'The so-called molecular gastronomy is too fussed over, too manipulated. Most of the time it doesn't look like the ingredients themselves. It can be tasty and visually whimsical sometimes, but it's not my cup of tea.
'I like Chinese food, and I also like Mediterranean cooking because it's so fresh and simple and I like olive oil. My least favourite is fusion cooking that's over-spiced and not respecting the origin of the ingredients they use.'
Ask him about his favourite food-themed movie and while he enjoys popular ones like Ratatouille, Babette's Feast and Eat Drink Man Woman, to name a few, the one he really likes just happens to be his own - 'Last Holiday, with Queen Latifah and Gerard Depardieu as a chef. There's a lot of cooking in the film and it shows a lot of food because Latifah wants to be a chef and she meets Depardieu - they have a great scene together where they cook a grand meal. And the food and preparation were all done with the popular Food Channel on cable TV.'
While Mr Wang likes to eat at home 'because my wife (former Hong Kong actress Cora Miao) cooks very well', he enjoys eating out as well.
'I eat at a lot of local dives (in San Francisco) and obviously Chez Panisse and a lot of restaurants whose chefs have been trained by Alice Waters, like Judy Rogers at Zuni Cafe.
'I don't like Los Angeles - the restaurants are all about being 'hip' and 'cool'. If anything I like some of the old classics such as Musso & Frank.'
He also doesn't believe in the hype of the Michelin star system. 'It's over-rated and relies only on one set of perspectives. But I enjoy eating in Paris, where my wife and I tend to look for classic Chinese food. We love Chinese cooking that's been altered somewhat by local tastes.
'We also like local neighbourhood type restaurants - they are fast disappearing. Recently, we spent a lot of time in Berlin and we enjoyed the food there. There's a great Vietnamese restaurant in the Mitte called Monsieur Vuong - I had a bowl of warm vermicelli topped with a salad covered with fresh fish.'
Even so, some of his best meals took place on the set of his movie Eat A Bowl Of Tea which was shot on a soundstage in Hong Kong. 'The whole crew ate together at what's called a 'Big Wok Meal' with different home style dishes every day like salted fish meat loaf and fresh greens with garlic.'
But the one dish he will always remember is 'the potstickers at this Shan Tung restaurant whose owner was friends with my father. It was thin-skinned and juicy when you bit into it, with lots of chives and it was always slightly burned and chewy at the bottom.'
When Mr Wang arrives in Singapore for the Film Festival - his film The Princess of Nebraska is the opening title - he hopes to return to Little India which he visited in 1997. 'I liked the meals I had there - the food was authentic and very fresh. I particularly remember a vegetarian meal with all kinds of fresh vegetables and beans. I've never had so many different beans before.'
No doubt he's in for a culinary adventure in Singapore too.
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