Anne Mendelson

Anne Mendelson

Fellow: Awarded 2010

Field of Study: General Nonfiction

Competition: US & Canada

I will use my term as a Guggenheim Fellow to write a cookbook examining some changes that have taken place in what is loosely called “Chinese-American cooking” over the last forty-odd years. Since the abolition of former immigration quotas, U.S. and Canadian Chinese-descended populations have been transformed from a few small, half-fossilized, ethnically narrow enclaves into an array of rapidly burgeoning communities filled with whole spectrums of influences—including culinary influences. Partly parallel, partly divergent elements of a long and complex worldwide Chinese diaspora are now turning up side by side in North American kitchens.

An instance of this intricate, many-layered, and most importantly unfinished culinary story might be the classic steamed minced pork loaf that many descendants of Cantonese immigrants make with ingredients like soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and salted preserved egg or fish—and that the children of ethnic Chinese immigrants from Vietnam now make in New World Chinatowns with different seasonings such as the beloved Vietnamese fish sauce. These are equally “authentic” versions of something that has reached North America by two historical-geographical routes. Every year the same process brings us more and more examples of dishes demonstrably rooted in Chinese cooking principles that have journeyed to the Philippines, Singapore, Cuba, West Bengal, Peru, and other destinations of Chinese huagiao (overseas sojourners) before making their way to North America, the new meeting place of many long-divided Chinese culinary traditions.

I am a food journalist and culinary historian of many interests. I was a contributing editor at the late Gourmet Magazine and have written for the New York Times Dining Section and the Los Angeles Times Food Section. My published works include a biography of the authors of The Joy of Cooking (Stand Facing the Stove, Henry Holt 1996), a hybrid history-cum-cookbook exploration of dairy foods (Milk, Knopf 2008), and several contributions to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. In 2000–01 I held a fellowship at the Dorothy and Lewis Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. One outgrowth of that year’s research, an essay on the pre-European foodways of the Lenape Indians of the Lower Hudson Valley, won the 2007 Sophie Coe Prize in Food History awarded by the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.