Two Taiwanese Americans. 20+ recipes. Taiwanese food as never seen before.
In a small kitchen in Taipei, Clarissa Wei and Brandon O’Neal set out to tell the tale of Taiwanese dishes. Equipped with extensive knowledge of culinary history, personal memories of each dish and a deep love for the flavors of Taiwan, the two Taiwanese American chefs are giving global audiences a whole new way to understand Taiwanese food.
The format of “Kitchen Remix” is fairly simple: Clarissa leads the pair in preparing a traditional dish, sharing cooking tips and historical tidbits along the way, and then Brandon puts a spin on it with international ingredients. Three-cup chicken becomes a boozy stir fry. Luwei gets a Cajun twist. One of their more ambitious mashups, Mexican-inspired bawan, is what Clarissa describes as a “squishy taco.” But they’re not just sharing and tweaking Taiwanese recipes. They are also exploring their own experiences of these dishes as Taiwanese Americans, and using their perspective to share Taiwanese food’s potential as a versatile cuisine that can resonate with people all over the world.
Contrasting Flavors, Personalities, and Experiences
While both are Taiwanese Americans and enjoy spending time in the kitchen, the two hosts have very different personal and professional backgrounds. Clarissa is a renowned author and journalist with over a decade of experience covering food, culture and politics stories from around Taiwan. Brandon is a comedian-influencer, known for his viral bilingual and multicultural content on Instagram and TikTok. Clarissa grew up in the U.S., while Brandon spent most of his childhood in Taiwan.
Director Kaley Emerson commented that in some ways, Brandon and Clarissa are “complete opposites.” Clarissa is careful about measurements and proportions, while Brandon is happy to throw ingredients in the wok and figure it out along the way. When Clarissa demonstrates a complicated cooking technique, Brandon asks if he could accomplish the same result by licking the dish.
“They’re so different,” Kaley said. “In the beginning, sometimes Clarissa would totally ignore his jokes.”
But Brandon’s style, full of humorous family anecdotes and dancing, turned out to be a natural complement to Clarissa’s meticulously tested recipes and deep knowledge of Taiwanese history and culture. Each dish they create comes with two different interpretations, but also two different sets of personal memories and reflections.
In one episode, Clarissa explains the history of bamboo shoots as a cheap staple in Taiwanese cuisine, knowledge gained from traveling through central Taiwan conducting research for her highly anticipated cookbook, “Made in Taiwan.” Brandon knows about the important role of bamboo in the Taiwanese flavor profile too — he fondly remembers his grandpa growing it in their backyard in Virginia until the local government covered it with cement to prevent overgrowth.
Food often acts as a force of connection and nostalgia. It plays an important role in connecting diaspora communities to their heritage across many cultures, but it’s especially complicated when it comes to Taiwan. Even though bubble tea and Din Tai Fung have entered the mainstream, there’s still a significant lack of information about Taiwanese food in English. “Kitchen Remix” works to fill this gap for Taiwanese Americans, home chefs and the culturally curious. It shows viewers that Taiwanese food and the stories that come with it are diverse, dynamic and for everyone to enjoy.
Authenticity in Imperfection
In many ways, “Kitchen Remix” is a show about making mistakes and taking things in stride. It takes a couple tries to get some techniques just right, food is occasionally dropped or burned, and at times Brandon admits that he prefers the original version to his “remix.” But these quirks create a relaxed environment and playful dynamic between the hosts, as well as a reminder to viewers that you don’t have to get it all right to enjoy what Taiwanese food has to offer.
The hosts’ willingness to embrace imperfection is a harmonious backdrop to sharing stories about Taiwan’s culinary identity. As Clarissa reiterates throughout the show, waves of colonization, natural disasters and other culinary trends have caused Taiwan to develop an incredibly non-linear food history. Much like Taiwan and its politics, the nation’s cuisine is not easily simplified, and takes a certain level of curiosity and patience to understand.
But Clarissa believes increased attention on Taiwan means that it’s the perfect time to share Taiwan’s rich food history and culture with the world. “For the first time, we’re able to showcase Taiwanese cooking as something more than just a subset of Chinese cuisine,” she says.
“Kitchen Remix” is available for free on TaiwanPlus, a Taipei-based media platform created to share Taiwan’s stories internationally. Since its launch three years ago, TaiwanPlus has produced a range of Taiwan-centric programming and daily news for English-speaking audiences. Episodes will be uploaded to the TaiwanPlus YouTube channel and website weekly through August 14.
Stay tuned for upcoming episodes:
Episode 3: How To Make a Taiwanese Bento Box Meal (6/26)
Episode 4: Taiwanese and Thai-Style Sweet Tangyuan Soup (7/3)
Episode 5: Taiwanese Breakfast Sandwiches Two Ways (7/10)
Episode 6: Taiwanese Rice Noodles Two Ways (7/17)
Episode 7: How To Make Flaky Scallion Pancakes (7/24)
Episode 8: The Art of Braising (7/31)
Episode 9: How To Make Congee Two Ways (8/7)
Episode 10: Taiwanese Sticky Rice With a Twist (8/14)