Out of the Fire with Mei Lin
Meet Mei Lin
From the mundane daily chores to the more profound life events, almost every aspect of our lives rely on connections with other people. The experiences we have mixing with people leave an imprint on our lives and ultimately shape us into the people we are. For Mei Lin, who she is and how she grew to understand the meaning of BBQ is a perfect example of how certain people and cultures have impacted her life and culinary style.
Born in Guangdong, China, Chef Mei Lin grew up cooking with her parents. As an infant, her family immigrated to the States, settled down in Dearborn, Michigan, and opened a Chinese restaurant. In the restaurant, Mei Lin established her foundation as a well-rounded cook and learned the ins and outs of the hospitality industry. Spending hours working in the kitchen alongside her parents, Mei Lin reflects, "My dad is a pretty amazing cook. He'll make a Hainan chicken that you wouldn't believe. And that's kind of where it started." Mei Lin's meals are often a reflection of the cooking lessons her parents imparted as well as the lessons she learned while studying at culinary programs. Her culinary masterpieces are designed to spark joy in her guests by infusing her Cantonese and American heritage.
Mei is recognized for pushing culinary boundaries and marrying unconventional ideas into one delicious dish bringing pure delight in the way she knows best. As Mei describes, "I just love making food for people and bringing them that moment where their eyes light up. A chef lives for that, you know? As a professional, it's rewarding to be able to provide the most basic, universal form of happiness there is, unconstrained by language or complications. That's my job, to bring those eye-widening moments."
Mei Lin & Reconnecting
When asked what her favorite memory from the BBQ was, Mei, without hesitation, replied, "Seeing everyone, for one, and just being able to cook for my friends again. I can't express in words just how relieved I am to be able to see my friends eating my food. It's been a whirlwind of a year." That sentiment resonated from her throughout the BBQ, particularly when reconnecting with her special guest and esteemed famous pastry chef, Thomas Raquel. Seeing each other for the first time after a year and a half apart, their faces lit up and they held each other just a little longer. Guests noticed the apparent change in Mei's demeanor, transforming from perpetually stoic to a contagious smile and the way he referred to her with an affectionate name, Mei Mei. Describing her friendship with Thomas, Mei shared, "We've been through some serious tough times together in light of the pandemic and what it's done to the industry. Just talking to him and sharing some laughs, and finding our way through this mess helped me through a pretty dark time for the entire industry in general. I'm lucky to know him."
Mei Lin's Unique BBQ Expression
Like all of her cooking, Mei Lin's BBQ expression reflects her culture and roots. As she explains, "As an Asian-American immigrant in Dearborn, Michigan, barbecue wasn't the most uncommon way to celebrate. I grew up around a huge Lebanese- and Arab-American population, so kebabs. These were some of the dishes I was exposed to early on, and as I grew up and started to work in kitchens I became a lot more familiar with BBQ as most Americans know it today."
Mei Lin's BBQ Drinks & Eats
Our OLIPOP BBQ meal was proof of Mei's style, as she crafted Char Siu Pork Ribs prepared with a BBQ sauce inspired by her Chinese roots and infused with OLIPOP Vintage Cola. The combination of Char Siu, a popular method of flavoring and preparing barbecued pork in Cantonese cuisine, with pork ribs, the cut of meat most commonly associated with American BBQ, Mei successfully fused her heritage into one unbelievably delicious OLIPOP-infused meal. When speaking of the meal she created, she explains, "This marriage of char siu and pork ribs has probably been happening in Cantonese backyards across America for generations. It's just a no-brainer -- we have these salty, sweet, tomato-based sauces in the States versus the salty, sweet hoisin/soy sauce-based sauces in Hong Kong and Southern China… It's like two different cultures took different paths to a similar place. And honestly, that's where I get the inspiration for a lot of my dishes. How do I recontextualize or nudge my diners toward a thought: That maybe, when it comes to food, we as humans tend to agree more often than we might think?"
Get Mei Lin's BBQ recipes and learn more about Mei Lin's cooking here.
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