can i lure you in with atoboy's family meal sets?

unfortunately, though, we have to talk about gender and toxic masculinity.

it’s been a great month of food.

one of the reasons i was so eager to get back to brooklyn was so i could start eating atoboy’s family meal sets, which they’d started delivering to brooklyn the week i first left for los angeles in april. atoboy is one of my favorite korean american restaurants, and it’s one i wish i’d eat at more often — and likely would have last year, had i not been so enamored with kawi.

initially, i’d planned for this substack to go into each of these three family meal sets because i find them not only delicious but also very interesting, an example of how a restaurant pivoted successfully to delivery while retaining the creativity that makes it so unique. for context, atoboy is a korean american restaurant that reinvents banchan and elevates it into a three-course meal. typically, when dining in, each course on the menu offers five options for you to select your preferred dish. you get a bowl of rice (with the choice of plain or the special they have that night), and, if you want, you can add on bigger plates, like fried chicken.

atoboy pivoted to delivery fairly early after covid-19 forced restaurants to close, and i was curious how they’d adapt their food to meet the limitations of delivery because the food at atoboy is very intentional, leaning more on the inventive side of things. as at kawi, you can fully enjoy a meal at atoboy without knowing where the food is coming from, but it’s really cool if you can connect the dots and identify the ingredients, flavors, and techniques, basically the source material, and see where the team is playing around and how. 

what i found most interesting was that, with their delivery family meal sets, atoboy leaned more into the traditional, while retaining their signature elevated style. for example, jangjorim is typically a side dish of beef that has been braised in soy sauce and is served cold or at room temperature. i’m going to make a sweeping generalization here and say that jangjorim is wrapped up in nostalgia for a lot of us koreans because we ate it as kids, sometimes mixed with bahp and egg for an easy meal, sometimes wrapped in geem with bahp and egg and maybe pieces of american cheese, aka kraft singles. we ate it on picnics, on road trips, on outings instead of fast food. sometimes, our moms would add hard-boiled eggs to their jars of jangjorim to make soy sauce eggs.

the beef in atoboy’s version is sliced thin, and it isn’t tough or salty, the broth fairly mild and nuanced. it’s served with potatoes that retain a surprisingly firm texture that contrasts with the tenderness of the beef. the dish looks different, feels different, yet retains all that is familiar and nostalgic, which is signature to atoboy’s food, though this jangjorim is also simpler and more traditional than something you might find when dining in. i wonder how they might serve it in their restaurant.

at home, i plate the jangjorim over soft-scrambled eggs and bahp. it’s one of my favorite dishes from my three weeks of family meal sets, this and their gyeranjjim, which i could swim in.

apparently, “elevated” is one of those words some people say should be removed from food speak, but i don’t quite agree. one of the things i find fun and really cool about korean american cooking in new york city is that korean american chefs are taking korean food and, well, elevating it. there are things to be said about how it could feel elitist, but i actually think this is vital and necessary. i’ll probably touch on this in a later substack.

on july 3, i get on the Q. the last time i was on a subway, it was march 13, and i also got on the Q then. i walked through the union square greenmarket and bought a zz plant before meeting a friend at ole and steen, which i find … fine. the only thing i love from them is their breakfast sandwich, ham (i think), egg, and gouda on a crusty roll, and it used to be incredibly cheap but has since been adding a dollar or two.

the weather's changed as the season has changed, and it’s hot and humid on friday. i’m drenched in sweat by the time i get to the Q, and i will say — it’s no fun wearing a face mask in the humidity. that’s no excuse not to wear a face mask when outside. wear a damn mask.

anyway, so, on july 3, i get on the Q, and it’s an uneventful subway ride. there aren’t very many people in the car, and everyone but 2-3 people are masked. i get off at canal to stop by kam hing for sponge cakes, then decide (why?!?) to walk up from chinatown to mcnally jackson in soho then over to hmart in the east village before stopping at ssäm bar to pick up way more fried chicken than one person should maybe eat by herself over a weekend.

i wish i could say this was leading to some kind of comment about the food, but all i really want to say right now is that i miss restaurants, yes, but i specifically really fucking miss momofuku. i’m actually flying back out to los angeles today and am really bummed to be leaving nyc again, just as momofuku is settling into takeaway, with different chefs contributing something different each week — or so it seems. i’m preemptively annoyed to miss whatever jo might do, assuming that this really is what they’re doing. i hope it is.

then again, i’ll be in LA, so i’ll have majordomo. i’ve already got an order scheduled for more fried chicken this weekend.

the next substack you receive will arrive under another name. i’ve been going back and forth about changing the name and URL of this substack for a while now, initially thinking i should keep my name/URL for SEO purposes, but my substack is such tiny beans, and i’m really not feeling the name, so i figure i should just follow my gut and change it now while i can. also, substack will let you change your URL and redirect all your links once, so i don’t have to worry about that.

i also don’t know how much i want to keep attaching myself to momofuku — i say, as i finally plan to sit down and write that damn memoir-in-essays i’ve been thinking about for over a year, the one that uses momofuku as a lens through which to explore personal themes. i’ve spent much of quarantine trying to shed the idea, to remove it from my brain, but it won’t leave me alone, and i’d gotten myself to a point where i felt comfortable pursuing it, and then, of course, shit happened.

last week, i sent out a substack that ended on the note that i missed lucky peach, then the next day, peter meehan’s shitty, abusive, predatory behavior came to light. i’d been told about meehan before, that he (and not chang) was the reason so many (like chris ying and rachel khong) had left lucky peach before it closed in spring 2017. in his forthcoming memoir, eat a peach, chang attributes the closure to lack of money, saying that momofuku had carried lucky peach financially for a long time, but, then, momofuku wasn’t doing so well anymore, and lucky peach had to close. even before tammie teclemariam’s tweets last week, i thought money was the simple explanation, but i had no idea how bad things had been at lucky peach until all the tweets.

i’ve been angry for a long time given the state of our stupid government, but i’ve been particularly angry these last two weeks. my primary anger is on behalf of the asian women who had to suffer meehan’s abuse — no one should have to work in such circumstances — and the fact that he continued to rise, along with the likelihood that he will not face any consequences for his shitty behavior, whips up my fury whenever i think about it. meehan issued his own statement or whatever his nonsensical word jumble was via twitter, and i imagine he himself is angry about this whole affair, thinking he has been unfairly cancelled and is being misunderstood and maligned. cis white men — of course.

underneath that, though, run two other threads of rage.

the first is for all the women of color who either leave industries or never even start because of shit like this. we know how much the world is stacked up against us, how much everyone wants to exploit us but not respect us, how much we are held to impossible standards while men and white people are allowed to coast on their mediocrity. we know how much the world protects white fragility.

sometimes, i stop and think of how much talent we’re losing because of this, and that breaks my heart.

the second is for people of color who read lucky peach and found hope in those pages. i didn’t give meehan much credit for that, to be honest, especially in the later years, crediting whatever LP was doing to ying and khong. i dare say i’m not the only reader and writer who really cherished the magazine, not only for the quality of writing and design it was showcasing, but also for what it signified, this space that existed for “minority” food cultures and food writing. lucky peach wasn’t perfect — nothing is perfect. it was very male, with that particular cool but potentially toxic masculinity rolling off it, but it meant something to so many of us.

and this loops me over to momofuku and this dumb book of essays i want to write but am hesitating so much over. it’s still unclear how much chang knew about meehan’s behavior, but i find it impossible to believe he was totally oblivious to it. they worked so closely for so many years, and, yes, men like meehan can charm those he wants to charm (as lucas kwan peterson shared in his tweets), but i don’t know — chang has anger issues himself; his temper is still something that flares uncontrollably.

in his podcast addressing meehan, chang says that he signed a non-disparagement agreement and therefore cannot speak to meehan’s behavior directly but admits that maybe he didn’t want to see what was going on because that would force him to confront his own issues. speculation says this non-disparagement agreement went both ways, which explains chang’s reticence. chang makes a case for himself, saying that he’s been trying to change, and, unlike other people, i do give him credit for that — and i do think that he has been reckoning, to a limited degree, with his own part in perpetuating a certain type of dominant kitchen culture.

frankly, though, much of that is kind of moot because it doesn’t really matter how much chang realizes that me, too is a real thing, that the food world is a male one, that women have it tougher in kitchens, unless he takes steps to rectify the situation. momofuku may have a woman CEO, but there is one woman executive chef in the entire fucking group. their kitchens are mostly male. maybe i’m making assumptions here, but how healthy can such an imbalanced environment be?

i’m not going to sit here and assume how park (said one woman exec chef) feels about all this, but i will say i get angry because this puts an unfair burden on her shoulders. i hope she's getting the support she needs, that she’s been set up to succeed, but, again, while i give chang some credit for recognizing that women face huge gender inequities in the kitchen, i wonder if he’s cognizant of the depths of ways in which that presents, especially when toxic masculinity is thrown into the mix. just like racism isn’t only exhibited in gross acts of violence but comes out in systemic prejudices, presumptive behavior, and daily microaggressions, so do misogyny and gender inequity.

park isn’t the first woman who’s been placed in this position, who’s had to sit as people yell around her about the masculinity of a thing when she’s there, she’s trying (whether intentionally or not) to represent a non-male perspective, she’s trying to set a different tone for this restaurant, this publication, this company, but she is just one woman, and she doesn’t have the power to effect real, organizational change. this, i can say because i’ve had this conversation with other women before, women who were the only women in the room, women who tried but were never given the authority or resources to do more, their work and contributions set aside or subsumed by the toxic masculinity surrounding them.

this, too, is similar to the problem of racism — just like it is not the burden of people of color to fix racism but the burden of white people, so is this problem of gender inequity and toxic masculinity. men need to be stepping up and saying it’s not okay — it is not okay to call someone a cunt or a pussy. it is not okay for kitchens to be dominantly male, to assume that a woman can only be a hostess or a server, to make sexual, derogatory comments. it is not okay to challenge the authority of a woman who outranks you.

again, while i give chang some credit for being a little more aware of how things are, i wonder if he and his executive team are both willing and able to take actual actions to get to the rot of masculinity that i assume still runs through momofuku. is the leadership willing to work towards gender equity, to healthier kitchens, and ultimately to creating a restaurant group that is welcoming of all genders? because, while i don’t think it’s on chang to fix gender inequity in food overall, i do think momofuku has enough clout that there could be a ripple effect were they to lead by example.

honestly, though, i’m not really holding my breath. just like i don’t expect big 5 publishing to diversify or food media to change, i also unfortunately don’t expect momofuku actually to work towards gender equity because it would be a painful process and men would have to sacrifice and step aside — and we all know that the egos of men will always get in the way, and women, especially women of color, will be the ones who pay the price and carry the damage.

after i send out one of these substacks, i spend the rest of my day crippled by imposter syndrome, wondering if someone will actually happen to read this all the way through and think i’m a total fucking idiot who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. because i don’t know — do i?! i exist outside the food world, and another effect of the meehan thing is that it has left me feeling rather foolish for missing lucky peach so much when it such a shitty place for so many people, especially so many asian women. i am now also hyper-aware of maybe being in that same position with momofuku.

but then i get stuck in this mindfuck of a mental loop because, the leadership may have been shitty, but the team at lucky peach was still turning out good work, and it’s unfair to shit on the magazine because meehan’s a shitty human being. similarly, the teams at momofuku are turning out good, interesting food, though that gets complicated because who knows how these individual kitchens are run, what kind of behavior is tolerated, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

this goes to show that it is impossible to make a decision that is 100% morally pure — it just isn’t. and then i think, constantly, of something  cathy park hong writes in minor feelings, “i wanted someone to unscrew my head and screw on a less neurotic head” (4). i feel like an idiot, just spending so much brain space on this.

all this to say that, the next substack you get will come from another name/URL. i’m not yet sure what the new name/URL will be. i have a few ideas, but none of them has been sticking, and i only get one chance to change my URL with links rerouted, so i’m trying to give it some more thought now. 

anyway, this took a tremendous amount of energy to write and send. i almost trashed the entire thing multiple times. i’ve been so crippled by depression and blah blah blah that i’m amazed this is coherent — though, in the writing of this, i realized i have a tendency to write off this substack in my head and don’t really think of it as writing, even though i put a lot into it, though to what end, who knows? it still often feels like i’m just spewing my neurotic bullshit into the void, so, if you’re there and if you’ve read this, thank you. if i really am full of shit, let me know. if there’s shit i need to know about momofuku or chang before i spend weeks writing this dumb book, really let me know — i’m not interested in writing an exposé; i just want to know not to waste my time.