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Home / US Business / Uncle Roger controversy: Why people are up in arms over a rice cooking video

Uncle Roger controversy: Why people are up in arms over a rice cooking video

(CNN) – On July 8, Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng uploaded to YouTube a video titled "DISGUSTED by this Egg Fried Rice Video", under his comic persona "Uncle Roger."

In the video, Ng smalt BBC Food presenter Hersha Patel's unconventional way of cooking Chinese-style egg-fried rice, which, among other things, drained the rice through a strainer after cooking.

"What is she doing? Oh my God. You're killing me, woman. Empty ̵

1; she's tapping rice with colander! How can you drain rice with colander? This is not pasta!" He exclaimed.

Shortly after, he groaned, "You're ruining the rice," when Patel used tap water to wash it off starch.

What Ng intended to be a comic video, triggered a storm of dismay and disbelief when it was disbanded around the internet, garnering more than 7 million views on YouTube and nearly 40 million on Twitter.

Many viewers, including Asian-American celebrities such as author Jenny Yang, mocked Patel's methods of deviating from how Chinese egg-fried rice is traditionally made. Patel had not washed the rice before cooking it. She had added too much water. She must have used day old rice. Scrambled eggs were overcooked instead of runny.

Ng, who is based in London, tried to wean the situation by filming a short clip with Patel announcing that they are planning a collaboration. "While this guy is blown away like no business, I've been wheeled," Patel said in the video claiming that she had simply presented the BBC's recipe and that "I know how to make rice." [19659003] The BBC has not publicly commented on comments from Ng or Patel.

Rice is a staple ingredient in Asia, and has been adopted by food globally since it was first domesticated in China more than 9,400 years ago, according to Chinese researchers. There are countless ways to cook rice – you can steam it, fry it, simmer it in broth like Italian risotto or sear it to develop a crispy crust like Iranian tahdig.

But the problem at hand goes beyond a difference of opinion about the different methods of cooking rice.

The controversy surrounding the BBC Food clip, and the reaction it provoked in certain Asian societies, speaks to a broader, long-running debate about the intersection of food, ethnicity and culture – the fundamental question of who is allowed to cook what kind of food .

Acquisition and money laundering

In recent years, countless white chefs have been accused of cultural appropriation by cooking from other ethnic groups using methods and phrases considered "unauthentic," disrespectful, and sometimes outright racist.

Last year, for example, an Asian food critic accused celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay of tokenism, after launching a restaurant description bed in promotional material as "an authentic Asian eatery."

The restaurant does not distinguish between very different and unique types of Asian dishes, and lumped them together as generic Asian. And at the time of opening, there did not appear to be any Asian chefs.

"Japanese? Chinese? It's all Asian, who cares," wrote critic Angela Hui in a scary Instagram story.

CNN reached out to Ramsay's restaurant group for comment after the initial controversy.

Tokenism is when racial, ethnic or cultural diversity is only emphasized on a symbolic level, without much significant effort to understand that culture – in Ramsay's case, labeling a restaurant "Asian" without taking the time to distinguish between these individuals nuanced kitchens.

Food is not just food, it carries history and heritage, and that is why many people are greatly offended when these traditional cooking methods are thrown aside.

Sometimes chefs do not just change cooking methods, they openly insult the kitchen and the culture of origin.

A notorious example is the Chinese-inspired restaurant Lucky Lee & # 39 ;s in New York. When it opened in 2019, the white owner said it would serve "clean" food that would not make people feel "bloated and icky" afterwards – the implication being that ordinary Chinese food was somehow unhealthy. It caused a stir and the restaurant closed eight months later.

And then there are chefs who do not at all acknowledge the ethnic origin of a dish – equivalent to money laundering.

New York Times food columnist Alison Roman, also a white woman, gained internet fame for her recipe for a "Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric" – which sounds very much like an Indian or Jamaican curry. But in an interview with Jezebel, she said, "I'm like you, this is not a curry … I've never made a curry." Roman's refusal to call it a curry and her denial of ethnic background led critic Roxana Hadadi to call it "colonialism as a kitchen."

In response to the setback, the NYT eventually posted a line in Roman's recipe on their website, saying it "evokes stews found in southern India and parts of the Caribbean."

But some people have pushed back against the idea of ​​cultural appropriation.

Food storage prevents innovation, some say: For example, fusion foods are born from chefs experimenting with different dishes. Many also point out that food is meant to be shared, and its power is often directly linked to shared eating care.

Setting boundaries around food – for example, saying that only Chinese can cook Chinese food, or Chinese food can only be prepared in a certain way, as those who react to NG's video positively – seems like the antithesis of this sharing spirit in our globalized world.

But sharing is different from appropriating without respect, especially when the chefs who do it profit from making these foods.

A calculation in the food media

The Uncle Roger video is the latest in a series of events that have attracted attention around questions about food and culture. This summer, the calculation of race and racism, embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement, has spread from the streets to newsrooms and companies.

In the food media, Bon Appetit – owned by Conde Nast – is the best known example. Current employees, including assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly, accused the company of underpaying and exploiting employees of color, and viewers shouted the brand for many cases of food allocation.

For example, viewers irritated at the time Bon Appetit got a white chef to demonstrate how to cook Vietnamese pho, entitled "PSA: This is how to eat Pho." It was also the time they "reinvented" the Filipino dessert Halo-halo by filling it with gummy bears and popcorn, spying mockery on readers.

Each time the brand would give an apology and a promise to do better – but it has happened for many years.

Following this summer's explosive allegations, the company issued a statement in June acknowledging that "BA's recipes for Vietnamese pho, mumbo sauce, flaky bread and white pine kimchi all erased the origin of these recipes or, worse, smelled them."

"In all these cases and more, BA has been called upon to grant, to decontextualize recipes from non-white cultures, and to knight" experts "without considering whether that person should actually require mastery of a kitchen that is not theirs, "wrote Joey Hernandez, BA's research director, in the statement.

The Bon Appetit debacle also raised other questions about biases in established institutions. Who chooses which dishes get more coverage? Why do publications still use language that frames "ethnic" foods that are sometimes bizarre and often incomprehensible – for example, as Bloomberg calls tofu a "white, chewy and bland" food that people "learn to love?" Bloomberg eventually removed these sentences from its article after international setbacks.
And why are "ethnic" chefs – a euphemism for non-whites – often paid less? Bon Appetit fans were furious when Somali chef Hawa Hassan revealed last month that she was only paid $ 400 per video, and El-Waylly blew up Bon Appetit just to pay her $ 50,000 to " help mostly white editors with significantly less experience than me. "

These topics sound abstract at times – but they are related to and help perpetuate broader real inequalities such as discrimination in the workplace, inequality in pay, balance of power and prevailing whiteness in the food world. .

Ng and Patel may not have intended for their respective videos, and upcoming collaborations, to raise these issues.

But viewers' frustrations are inherently linked to the idea that there is an authentic way to cook fried rice, and that Patel's mistake is made worse by the fact that she is a non-Chinese chef who presents herself as an authority on the dish.


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