Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Food porn
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Food porn

Buttermilk fried chicken from Chef E’s, with fried green tomatoes, spicy cabbage and mashed sweet potatoes.

Ain’t it great when a dining experience is positively orgasmic? I for one, live for those meals.

The first meal with the AAJA Link student staff at the AAJA convention in Minneapolis was one of those great foodfests.

After a long day of getting to know each other and getting an introduction to video shooting and audio recording, the eight student journalists and the four professional staff walked a handful of blocks away from downtown on Nicollette Avenue to Chef E’s Soul Food and Blues restaurant. The outside isn’t much to look at, with several giant cartoon images of the giant Chef E are posted in the windows.

But inside we were immediately enveloped in a warm cocoon of red walls and washed over with cool blues music on the sound system. A slight Asian man looked at us from behind the bar as we trooped in, and were seated by Brian, our Caucasian waiter.

Along one wall in the dining room, large portraits of notable African Americans from Tiger Woods to Halle Berry look down upon diners gorging themselves on the food.

The menu’s all about African American southern comfort food, with a detour into the deep south fare of New Orleans — ribs and pork chops are served alongside jamabalaya. The side dishes are also a feast of southern comfort food.

I ordered the buttermilk fried chicken breast, salted with Lawry’s seasoning, with three sides: fried green tomatoes, mashed sweet potatoes and spicy cabbage. Spicy cabbage turned out to be finely chopped cabbage pan-fried with a smoky flavor and salt and pepper.

It was great. Heavenly. Stupendeous.

The chicken must have weighed about as much as a medium sized turkey; the breast was the largest I’d ever seen. The sides were terrific.

We were all satiated beyond our expectations.

Then, as Brian took all our separate credit cards and wads of cash, and we asked nosey questions about the restaurant, he let on a blockbuster of a fact. He suggested we talk to the owner, Jason, who had just been talking to us.

But the Asian bartender was the one who’d been chatting it up with us!

It was true. Jason Dang’s card sez “owner/general manager.�?

Dang. Goes to show you, you can’t assume anything.

Dang shrugged when I asked him how he came to open a soul food restaurant.

“There are a lot of Asian restaurants,�? he said. “So I wanted to do something different.�?

He hired Chef E (Eric Austin) and made the man’s southern soul food recipes and jovial image front and center at the eatery, and told E he could pose as the owner of the restaurant. Dang preferred to keep a low profile.

Low is right – the reviews and clippings in the restaurant’s entranceway mention Chef E, the food and the live music (there was no live music the night we were there, unfortunately), but there’s not a word about Jason Dang, the man who made it possible.

Meeting Dang was the topper on a world-class meal, with world-class companions. It was positively orgasmic – food porn.

Gil Asakawa is in Minnesota, working with student journalists covering the annual convention of the Asian American Journalists Association.