Narratively Insider

A Chef Who Fuses Food and Performance Art to Challenge Bias

A Q&A with Jenny Dorsey on how she serves up some very tough questions.

A Chef Who Fuses Food and Performance Art to Challenge Bias

From sketchy temp positions to a climate change-fighting scientist, we have published many stories over the years about how unique jobs have impacted people’s lives. One recent story that particularly caught readers’ attention is chef Jenny Dorsey’s article “Yes, This Meal Is Supposed To Make You Feel Uncomfortable.”

In this article, Dorsey writes about how growing up and through culinary school, people have made her feel that her family’s Chinese cuisine was somehow backward. We chatted with Dorsey about her writing, her non-profit Studio ATAO, and the work that she does to challenge prejudiced notions about food.

Narratively: Since we published your essay, “Yes, This Meal is Supposed to Make You Feel Uncomfortable” roughly a year ago, what have you been up to?

Jenny Dorsey: I’ve been working on my non-profit, Studio ATAO. It’s a production studio, and we put together content and experiences with different types of art that are always grounded in some sort of bigger social impact message.

A lot of immigrants and Asian Americans feel like somehow their cuisine is seen as not as valuable or different. One of the series that I launched around the time that my story came out is called “Asian in America.” It’s an exhibition that tackles Asian America narratives through food, which also includes a [virtual reality] component.

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In Asian in America, three out of the six courses are paired with a virtual reality recreation using Tilt Brush (a VR drawing program) and accompanied with spoken word.

Narratively: In your Narratively essay, you wrote about how people were very prejudiced against your family’s food and Asian cuisine in general. As a chef, how do you challenge people’s harmful notions about non-Western cuisines?

Dorsey: With Asian in America, that is  specifically the point of the series. It highlights a lot of questions that I’ve had over the years about: why hasn’t this food been seen as just as good or just as valuable?

Narratively: When and how did Studio ATAO came to be?

Dorsey: I founded Studio ATAO in 2017. It came out of a dinner series that I’ve been hosting with my husband [Matt Dorsey] since 2014, which was called Wednesdays. We were wondering how we can bring people together over food and drink to talk about something meaningful. Studio ATAO tries to hone in on that and bring in interdisciplinary art. People are always going to be there for the food, but there are also a lot of different types of visual art and performance art that we hope will leave an impact.

Narratively: As a writer and a chef, why was it important to you to create a production studio combining food and art?

Dorsey: It was important to be able to highlight all different types of art, especially with the narrative of food. Food has and continues to change how we see the world, and how we see each other. It was really important to have food as the baseline of all of this. And also as someone who works in other fields of art, I wanted to bring those in and leverage it to make our experiences more meaningful.

Narratively: Are there any other Studio ATAO projects in particular that you are proud of?

Dorsey: We recently conceived another project called Hidden, which is a multi-sensory journey towards self-acceptance. It’s an interdisciplinary project that uses food, virtual reality, poetry, as well as immersive dance.

In Hidden, after watching dancers perform on VR, guests see those same performers in the real space before them. 

Narratively: Do you have any advice for aspiring food writers?

Dorsey: I think it’s important to figure out what your own personal style is and what you like to write about. A lot of people try to emulate writers that they like, but people should find their own prose and learn to embrace that.

Narratively: What’s next for you?

Dorsey: Studio ATAO is currently touring both of our series, Asian in America (at the Hawai’i International Film Festival on Nov. 14 and at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on Jan. 23) as well as Hidden, with stops around the globe. We’ve been working our butts off to make sure that those go off without a hitch. We’re also in pre-production for another series which is about how the world is built on female pain. We’re hoping that this will launch in 2020.

Sign up for Studio ATAO’s mailing list to be notified of upcoming performances of Hidden and Asian in America