“That Christmas would live in our memories as the Christmas when we were introduced to Chinese turkey. All was right with the world.”
These words from BB-gun enthusiast Ralphie Parker are spoken as the last scene fades to black in the holiday movie A Christmas Story, which ends with the family eating at Bo Ling Chop Suey Palace after the neighbor’s dogs tear up their turkey dinner.
For chef Michael Hung, the movie and the scene have had a lasting impression. Drawn in by the film’s “simple, yet fundamentally truthful and poignant story arc,” Hung says he’s watched it every year since he was eight. “What I also love about the scene is that the movie is able to give us a humorous but very human look at Asian-American culture. We laugh when the immigrant employees mix their ‘r’ and ‘l’ phonetics when singing, and standing alone it might seem stereotypical and racial insensitive, however the manager of the restaurant is able to speak English very well.”
The moment, he contends, was a departure from the generally problematic depictions of Asians in 1980s Hollywood (Sixteen Candles, anyone?). “That this movie was made in a Hollywood era in which ‘yellow face’ was appropriate, and the writers and director chose to portray Asian-American culture with depth and appreciation made it even more powerful to me as an Asian-America growing up,” says the chef.
To show his appreciation and pay playful homage to the scene, Hung will be serving a menu he’s named “Dinner at Chop Suey Palace” at Beverly Hills’ Viviane on Christmas Day. The family-style feast will include a soy-lacquered roasted duck leg—a throwback to classic Chinese-American restaurant offering—and, of course, a reference to the whole roasted duck that the Parkers are served at Bo Ling. Another highlight is the shrimp, scallop, and smoked chicken ragout, which is play on Fukien fried rice, a dish traditionally topped with seafood gravy. “Not only is it amazingly delicious, the name is fun to mispronounce!” jokes Hung.
Of all the items, the chef says he’s most excited about his rice-wine-braised shiitake mushrooms with sunchokes, romanesco, and crispy garlic. “I love vegetables,” he says, “and this dish has all the elements to make it great—deep umami from the mushrooms, sweet and acid from the rice wine, crisp freshness
from the raw, shaved sunchokes, funk from the romanesco, and the earthy, smoky, deep notes of caramelized garlic.” Beignets with black sesame anglaise and almond-milk panna cotta round out the meal.
When asked if working the holidays is a bummer, Hung just laughs. “Ha! I have been in the business for 12 years now, so working on a holiday is just another day for me.” However, making the day special for guests is important him. “The goal for me is to create a warm, comfortable, and fun experience for people to enjoy their time with friends and family. I don’t want to challenge people with the food. I want them to enjoy it, but focus on the people around them.”
Viviane, 9400 W Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills, (310) 407-7791. The Dinner at Chop Suey Palace menu will be served on December 25, from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. The price is $58 per guest $22 for children 3-12 years old. Reservations required.