A Renton woman inspired bake sales around the world to stop Asian hate
When the pandemic hit, Renton’s Kat Lieu did what many Americans did: she started baking. But there were particular flavors that she craved.
“I wanted to bake the Asian way,” said Lieu. “Where I could eat all these foods that brought me so much comfort, like my egg tarts, things that I’ve had in Hong Kong, things I had in my childhood. Thinking back on the moon cakes, the milk breads, the mochis.”
But she’d never baked these treats before, so she went online for recipes.
“There was no collective network or space where I could bounce an idea off of other people who were also interested in baking this way,” said Lieu. “So if I wanted to know how to make an egg tart, do I use lard or do I use vegetable fat?”
So Lieu started a group on Facebook called Subtle Asian Baking, a spin-off from the already existing Subtle Asian groups. What is subtle Asian? Here’s Lieu’s interpretation:
“Let’s say I make a macaron and I use matcha,” said Lieu. “A macaron is a French creation, but by adding that matcha now I have a subtle Asian baked goodie. A bit like fusion. Let’s say I mix my dough with chopsticks. Let’s say I’m making a chiffon cake, that I remember my grandma made for me, filled with light cream and fresh fruits. She learned from restaurants in Vietnam. It’s a chiffon cake with some French inspiration, but it’s also very subtly Asian.”
Lieu started the group last May, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it has since ballooned to 140,000 followers on Facebook and 130,000 on Instagram.
“Not just Asians,” said Lieu. “We welcome anyone who wants to bake this way, they’re welcome to join.”
Last year, the media reported on a rash of anti-Asian hate crimes.
“We decided to have a purpose, which is to help stop Asian hate,” said Lieu. “Especially around May, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We are asking bakers from around the world to host their own bake sales. They could be virtual, they could be in person, and then they can donate proceeds to a fundraiser that we’ve chosen as a community. Last year we were raising funds for Welcome To Chinatown, a grassroots organization in New York City. We were able to buy 1,000 hot meals from local businesses and give them to older adults. This year we’re working with former Seattle [TV] anchor Michelle Li’s Very Asian Foundation.”
Subtle Asian Baking members have raised $30,000 since last May. Lieu is half Vietnamese and half Chinese and she says changing people’s perceptions of Asians in America is a matter of life and death.
“I’ve been a victim of hate crimes, I’ve been a victim of racism and microagression, so I feel a lot of fear and sometimes anger,” said Lieu. “Fortunately, we’re in Renton. I do feel a lot safer, I used to live in the Brooklyn area. But every time I hear something about a shooting, someone being pushed into the subways, Michelle Go, Christina Yuna Lee who are women who are very much like me; working women in their 30s, the same straight, black hair. Merely for existing for who they are and what they look like, were brutally murdered. You never know what will happen just for being who I am, just for being Asian. We were scared. I’m very frank about it.”
Lieu worked as a physical therapist for 13 years, but last year, thanks to Subtle Asian Baking getting national press, she was offered a cookbook deal and was able to quit her job to write Modern Asian Baking, out next month.
“It’s so important for this book to come out now because representation really, really matters. Not just during May, during AAPI month, during the entire year. We are as American as anyone else. Yes, I celebrate all these Asian holidays, but I also celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas. We are not the others, we are as American as the next American.”
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