Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Master Chef

I stopped at the Asian market on my way home yesterday. You see I've been yearning to make an Asian-style turkey burger ever since I saw this recipe at Serious Eats, and I needed sriracha sauce for the dressing.

Sriracha is a blend of hot chiles, salt, sugar and vinegar. It can be used to liven up just about anything, and is quite good blended with some mayo as a sauce for the burger.  I have, in the past, used these same Asian ingredients that appear in this recipe with great success blended with freshly chopped salmon to form burgers.

I was first introduced to the wonders of the Asian marketplace in the late 1970's  by my Chinese cooking guru, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.  Eileen is quite the authority on Chinese cooking and has authored eleven cookbooks on Chinese cuisine and many articles for major magazines.  But I knew her as Eileen Ferretti and took cooking lessons from her in her New Jersey kitchen.

Those were the days before anyone had ever heard of a celebrity chef, and people were still allowing strangers through their doors to teach them to cook.  Imagine that!  Eileen did, and still does, cook food that is traditional to her native land. I worked and ate my way through Eileen's classes all the way up through "super advanced".

An Asian grocery store could be overwhelming to a Westerner; but before classes would begin, Eileen would take us to Chinatown in New York City to make sure we would have all the proper woks and utensils and ingredients to continue our education at our own stoves at home. I did become quite proficient at it, too--even going so far as hanging a Peking duck from a hook on our screened-in porch, fan blowing to dry it out, before roasting it in a hot oven. That was before our kitchen had an exhaust fan, and I don't know how the Fire Department didn't show up!

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo is a 4'9" dynamo who was born in the village of Sun-Tak in Canton and learned to cook at an early age from her beloved grandmother. During the Chinese Revolution Yin fled to Hong Kong to be with her father and continued her cooking education with her Number 6 Aunt.  She met her husband of fifty years,  journalist Fred Ferretti, in 1958 when this American G.I. walked into the tailor shop that she managed. They married the following year, she added Eileen to her name, and moved to the United States to begin a family.

Eileen believes that Chinese cooking is Chinese culture. One must have respect for the tradition of Chinese cooking and be authentic in technique and in life. Her latest book,  Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, will serve to keep her beliefs and traditional recipes alive forever.

I see Eileen from time to time around town. We always stop to talk. We ask about each others families, the projects we are working on, and about her grandchild.  Now Eileen can pass on her treasured culture to her granddaughter Siu-Siu, as her grandmother did to her.  And I think of Eileen every time I make Lemon Chicken from Number 6 Aunt!

Click here to see Eileen at home in her kitchen.


  1. I loved reading this story. Especially since I not only live around the corner from Eileen, but have had the honor of photographing her for two different magazine articles. She is AMAZING.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks, Ted. Eileen is truly an amazing woman. I love your site, http://spoonandshutter.com.