Growing up in San Francisco's Sunset District, Brandon Jew's holiday seasons were a hodgepodge of American and Chinese traditions. At Thanksgiving, both East and West found a place at the table.
"There was always a turkey, and that could be viewed as a traditional American thing, but half the table would be full of Chinese food as well," recalls Jew, chef/owner of Mr. Jiu's, Moongate Lounge, and Mamahuhu.
In those days, aunts, uncles, and cousins from across the Bay Area gathered at his parents' house to celebrate the hybrid holiday. Instead of stuffing, his mom made naw mi fan, a savory sticky rice baked with dried mushrooms, shrimp, and scallops. Some years, Jew's uncles showed up with the season's first Dungeness crab in hand. "That was always a big treat," he says.
Jew's meteoric rise to Michelin-starred chef status hasn't changed much about his family's Thanksgiving Day celebration. Jew's parents' house is still where the party's at, at least most of the time.
"The first year of opening Mr. Jiu's we tried to host Thanksgiving at the restaurant, but a lot of my aunts and uncles had never been in a commercial kitchen. There were a lot of questions and a lot of tinkering around," he laughs. But he hasn't given up yet on the idea of hosting the holiday meal again some day. "Eventually I'd like to try to take on some of that tradition and responsibility."
Chef Brandon Jew, in the kitchen at his Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant, Mister Jiu's.(Photography by Aubrie Pick)
In the meantime, he's got a different kind of responsibility: making sure those who gather at his restaurants in the spirit of the season leave well fed. At this time of year, Jew's a sucker for a good mushroom, a food that factors heavily into Chinese cooking. Cordyceps, an antioxidant-rich parasitic fungus traditionally grown on caterpillars in mountainous regions of China, are among his current favorites. "We put those and things like lion's head into the broth of the meatballs or we put it into a stir fry that we do; we call them mushuu mushrooms."
On the sweeter side, one of the fall recipes Jew treasures most, spicy ginger molasses cake, originated not in the kitchen at Mr. Jiu's but in the mind of Bar Agricole's former master of pastries, where Jew was executive chef from 2010 to 2013. The super-moist, almost pudding-like cake gets its deep caramel color from molasses and a warm spiciness from ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.
"I've always been a cake guy, not a pie guy. I don't know if that's a Chinese thing? But I've always loved cake," he explains. "It's definitely one of my favorite cakes, I think because it's savory but it definitely satisfies the sweet side. It's a pretty complex tasting cake for how simple it looks."
Jew likes to add a dollop of creme fraiche, and sometimes whips in a bit of whiskey. Persimmons, with their sweet, mild fruity flesh, also make a nice accompaniment.
// Mr. Jiu's (28 Waverly Pl., Chinatown) is open for outdoor dining 3:30pm to 9:30pm and takeout/delivery 3pm to 8pm Tuesday through Saturday, misterjius.com. Mamahuhu (517 Clement St., Inner Richmond) is open for takeout and delivery 11:30am to 2pm Thursday through Sunday and daily 4:30pm to 8:30pm, eatmamahuhu.com; both restaurants will be closed Thanksgiving Day.
Recipe: Brandon Jew's Spicy Ginger Molasses Cake
(Photography by Aubrie Pick)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 ½ cups molasses
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger (The Spice Hunter)
4 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cloves (The Spice Hunter)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (The Spice Hunter)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 eggs, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans with vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, oil, molasses, and salt; mix well. Boil water and add the baking soda. Pour into mixed dry ingredients. Add the ginger.
Sift together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper, then add to the bowl. Mix at a low speed, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl until combined well. Mix in the eggs.
Pour half of the mixture into each 9-inch pan. Bake for 30 mins or until almost cooked so that the center remains slightly gooey.
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