Chef Brandon Jew Is Redefining Asian Tradition In The Most Delicious Way

For us, simply gathering to eat can be an act of resistance.
Brandon Jew, executive chef at the restaurant Mister Jiu's in San Francisco, is navigating culinary expression through his blended, Asian American identity.
Brandon Jew, executive chef at the restaurant Mister Jiu's in San Francisco, is navigating culinary expression through his blended, Asian American identity.
Photo: Nathan Garcia
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On a surface level, Mister Jiu鈥檚 in San Francisco has everything you鈥檇 expect of a Michelin-starred restaurant: elaborate plating, an immaculately curated Instagram presence and a revolving tasting menu. At the helm of the kitchen and its vibes is executive chef Brandon Jew, who, like many of his peers, is navigating culinary expression through his blended, Asian American identity. Specifically, he wants to rejigger the space that contemporary Chinese cuisine occupies in the American food zeitgeist.

The menu at Mr. Jiu鈥檚 (a reflection of Jew鈥檚 overall cooking ethos, it seems) is both innovative and reverent of San Francisco鈥檚 old Chinatown, bejeweled with slightly remixed Cantonese-style dishes meant for sharing, as well as a tasting section that leans a bit more adventurous. He never strays too far from home, though 鈥 his choices feel cohesive and cozy.

For those in the East Asian diaspora, sharing a meal is quintessential to forming and nurturing bonds. Food is sometimes a unique type of love language that rescues us from having to be unnecessarily sentimental, even borderline uncomfortable. The word 鈥渓ove鈥 in Mandarin, for example, carries a lot of weight 鈥 and for many of us, asking someone if they鈥檝e eaten yet is an easier way to express it.

Jew is at the helm of Mister Jiu's kitchen and its vibes.
Jew is at the helm of Mister Jiu's kitchen and its vibes.
Photo: Nathan Garcia

There鈥檚 love in community, too, which has become crucial during the uptick in anti-Asian rhetoric and racist crime. This need to band together and seek comfort in the familiar was the impetus for Chef Brandon鈥檚 most recent event, which was a collaboration with Intertrend, a creative agency that helps brands better understand reach Asian American audiences; and streetwear house, the Darkside Initiative. The Chinese banquet-style event, called the Golden Generation dinner, hosted artists and other prominent community members in the Bay Area. Chef Brandon鈥檚 hope is that through the gathering the larger AAPI community and its allies, we can foster support and strategy to combat anti-Asian violence.

A little context for why simply coming together in this way can be a radical act of resistance: Too often and for a number of reasons, many Asian Americans have avoided getting deeply involved in U.S. sociopolitics. It鈥檚 a broad assessment, but it鈥檚 linked to the fact that many immigrant families have been too focused on adapting and assimilating into American life to worry about high-level politics. Many Asian immigrant elders believe that keeping a low profile and taking up less space will ensure easier survival. Another harsh reality is that most American politicians and cultural activists have simply ignored Asian communities until fairly recently, even in places like the Bay Area, which is full of people of Asian descent.

For those in the Asian diaspora, sharing a meal is quintessential to forming and nurturing bonds.
For those in the Asian diaspora, sharing a meal is quintessential to forming and nurturing bonds.
Photo: Brandon Shigeta

And so, coming together to eat, talk and celebrate is the joyful form of advocacy that Jew has been craving. Some of the esteemed guests in attendance at the Golden Generation dinner included contemporary artist So Youn Lee, 鈥淏eef鈥 actor Young Mazino, and journalists Mariecar Mendoza, Tim Chan and Dion Lim.

Anti-Asian violence reached a peak nearly three years ago, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Asian Americans are still vulnerable to racially charged hate crimes, especially in San Francisco.

鈥淭he violence that was happening within our communities in the Bay Area was upsetting and disheartening, but it also brought us together,鈥 Jew says. 鈥淲e want to continue using that momentum we鈥檝e created in our communities, and continue to have forums where we come together, celebrate each other and have a place to check in with each other and strengthen our connections.鈥 Through this demonstration of organized community building, Golden Generation itself becomes political 鈥 a sign that silence and isolation are things of the past.

For people in the AAPI community, simply coming together is a radical act of resistance.
For people in the AAPI community, simply coming together is a radical act of resistance.
Photo: Nathan Garcia

This shift brings an intentionality to Jew鈥檚 style of cooking and organizing, but he has always hoped his culinary pursuits can fundamentally change how Chinese food is perceived. His career took him from his training in Italy to working in Shanghai, and then in 2008 to San Francisco, where he initially experienced some pushback to this type of reimagining of Chinese fare, even in one of the most Asian and progressive regions of the country. 鈥淚 was determined to open a Chinese restaurant, but it was tough at the time,鈥 he says. 鈥淧eople did not understand what I was trying to do.鈥

Jew鈥檚 story sounds painfully similar to the initial reaction that San Francisco residents had toward Chinese restaurateurs in the mid-1800s, when Chinese people were still seen as shady undesirables in America. And even though this experience happened literal centuries ago 鈥 and under entirely different circumstances 鈥 it goes to show that America is not the infinitely compassionate melting pot we were promised. It鈥檚 probably for the best: We shouldn鈥檛 have to 鈥渕elt鈥 into anything to thrive together.

Chinese food continues to play an integral role in bridging the gaps between AAPI communities, and there鈥檚 more work of all types to be done. It just so happens that in some spaces, that work is warming, satisfying and ripe with unspoken affection.

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