On March 26, when a shooting left eight victims dead in Atlanta — six of whom were women of Asian descent — chefs Kevin Tien and Tim Ma signed on to participate in a fundraising takeout dinner. But they still felt like there was much more to do.
“We started talking about how this was affecting our community, especially the elderly — this could have been Tim’s mom, or my grandma,” says Tien. “We had to do something, and the thing we do best is cook.”
Both chefs in Washington, D.C., Tien (Moon Rabbit) and Ma (Lucky Danger) got to know each other through the local industry. They always talked about collaborating, given their natural inclinations toward passionate, mission-driven work. In the wake of the Atlanta tragedy, they knew it was time. Tien and Ma began inviting chef friends to participate in a takeout dinner series that would continue through May, which is also Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Besides those with scheduling conflicts, everyone agreed on the spot, and Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate was born.
The organization brings together chefs for a series of five-course takeout dinners to spread awareness about ongoing attacks against the AAPI community and fundraise for organizations working to stop anti-Asian racism. From its start in D.C., the group quickly expanded to cities and restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, and Detroit. OpenTable is proud to participate in the events as a resource for buying the takeout meals.
Among the 90 participating chefs are Javier Fernandez of Kuya Ja’s, Belinda Leong of b. patisserie; and Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney. May’s final NYC takeout package for two, for example, includes goi rau tien vua (celtuce salad with sesame cracker) from Di an Di, Llama San’s harusame (cellophane) noodles with mushrooms, and a matcha tiramisu from Cha-An, plus a mystery bottle of sake.
“We didn’t even have to do our full elevator pitch to colleagues and friends,” says Tien. “They didn’t even ask details. It was just, ‘Yes.’”
Ma believes it helped that they were relating chef-to-chef. Restaurants all suffered through the pandemic, and they all knew how vulnerable businesses still were. They could empathize with everything going on and say, at the same time, “This is really important,” he says.
“We don’t claim to be the experts,” says Ma. “We’re trying to play to our strength of cooking, to raise money to give to organizations that really do know what change looks like.”
Currently, those organizations include Stop AAPI Hate, a center that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US, and RISE, which fights for the rights of sexual violence survivors and is working to pass legislation that will protect those in the AAPI community.
What started as a daily video call between a handful of chefs has quickly swelled to include marketers, restaurant group operators, videographers, and more, representing both the AAPI community and allies. People are constantly reaching out to Tien and Ma to ask how they can help. Diners are eager to support, too: Several events have sold out.
Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate is now in the process of applying for 501c3 status to become an official nonprofit. From there, Tien and Ma want to bring on team members to help them direct and curate a vision. Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate has raised more than $122,000 for charities, and the money raised from a single dinner can significantly impact a smaller organization’s operating budget — so the impact of their effort is tangible and motivating.
Looking ahead, Tien and Ma want to provide resources to the AAPI community, increasing accessibility with translations for non-English speakers. They are exploring a traveling dinner series in partnership with the Antiracism Research Center at nearby American University for an educational component. Additionally, they plan to develop pamphlets to include in to-go orders so that diners can digest information with their meals.
By purchasing a Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate dinner, people are making a direct impact on their communities, championing AAPI businesses and allies who have suffered during the pandemic — and gaining access to an incredible culinary experience curated by chefs and restaurants from all over the globe.
Says Tien: “I like to think of food as an easy entry to learning about someone else’s culture. Gather around for a good meal and good conversation, read up about the chef and where a dish is from, and think about how to continue to support the AAPI and BIPOC communities.”