Every restaurant-driven cookbook touts the chef’s backstory. Eric Silverstein’s is more intriguing than most. A “cultural mish-mash” is how he describes himself, and why the title of his first book — “The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas” — makes sense if you read between the recipes for the Banh Mi Tacos and Bacon Jam Fries that made his Austin-based food trucks and restaurants famous.
Silverstein was born in Tokyo to a Chinese “tiger mom” and a Jewish businessman, where he cut his teeth on smoked yam sold from trucks instead of ice cream and feasted on foods from hawker stands on family vacations through Asia. When he was 11, his family moved to Atlanta, a painful transition eventually eased by the comforts of fried chicken and biscuits. He got his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, where he landed a job as a litigator. But he soon burned out, and at age 27, he chucked the six-figure salary to try to turn his true passion — food — into profit.
He created his own brand of street food that wove together the many flavors and experiences of his multi-cultural life and sold them out of a truck. Today, The Peached Tortilla has mushroomed into an empire, with multiple food trucks and brick-and-mortar locations, plus a catering operation.
His road to success has had many bumps — as a fledgling entrepreneur in a grueling field where the failure rate is high, and as a mixed-race kid growing up “different.” Silverstein shares the highs and the lows, and through these stories his wildly eclectic recipes start to make sense.
Southern Fun Noodles marries his mom’s traditional chow fun with Austin-style dry-rubbed brisket. Japanese Street Corn riffs on elotes, the classic Mexican street food, mixing Kewpie Mayo with cotija cheese and bonito flakes. Grits for Shrimp, Bacon and Gouda Grits simmer in dashi, an umami-rich broth flavored with kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms.
These aren’t the kind of recipes you’re likely to whip up after a long workday. Most require a trip to an Asian market, and a substantial amount of assembly.
But I’m finding quite a few that sound as if the payoff would be worth it.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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