We caught up with what is arguably the best food magazine about the immense topic that is Chinese food. The Cleaver Quarterly covers stories and recipes from the Mainland to the diaspora and everywhere in between. Find them at http://www.thecleaverquarterly.com/
What made you start this magazine? Being in the magazine business is absolutely a labor of love. So what did you see that didn’t exist before The Cleaver Quarterly?
Jonathan White: We all worked together in the magazine business before starting The Cleaver Quarterly, so “absolutely a labor of love” might imply that this project is strictly amateur, which is not the case. Last summer, myself and Lilly left the Beijinger magazine (www.thebeijinger.com). We didn’t want that to be the last magazine we ever made, so starting something of our own seemed a natural progression. Frankly, Chinese food was the obvious choice, given that Chinese is the biggest cuisine in the world. We felt that there were a lot of stories that would never get published anywhere else.
Iain Shaw: In our home countries, a lot of Chinese menus don’t stray far beyond sweet and sour chicken, and beef and mushroom. A lot of writing about Chinese food follows that same tendency. There’s so much more to say about Chinese food – all over the world – but nobody is saying it. We took that it as our mission to change that.
Lilly Chow: Good writing (in English) about Chinese food traditions and practices does exist, but until now, it has been piecemeal and scattered. We want to bring it all together. We want to connect the dots. Because the popularity of Chinese food is global and has been for centuries, our goal is to juxtapose China’s regional cuisines with the diasporic offshoots – to show that they are kissing cousins in a sprawling, boisterous family. Also, we love storytelling and deep-dive longform as much as we love Chinese food, so we’re excited about using The Cleaver Quarterly as a platform to discover and showcase writers who feel the same.
What will The Cleaver Quarterly be able to bring to the table so to speak that will change how people look at Chinese food?
LC: We want our readers to be pleasantly overwhelmed by how much more there is to Chinese food than they had ever imagined. We want them to see Chinese food as a lifelong mission: to sample as much as they can, whether that means supporting local restaurants that dare to offer something different or trying out recipes in their own kitchens. Let me say, though, that we’re not trying to anoint ourselves as a super-authority on Chinese food. (How would that even work, with only four issues per year?) However, the scope of the topics we cover should and will be as global and comprehensive as possible.
IS: We will introduce people to dishes they’ve never heard of before, but know they’re going to love – and then tell them the stories behind those dishes. Visually, we’ll have a style that people don’t associate with Chinese food. Too much coverage of Chinese food still comes with the bamboo font, the conical hat and a big splash of red. It’s old. It’s clichéd. It’s not fun. It should be fun, because it’s fun to eat.
Speaking of day jobs for a moment, what are yours?
LC: All three of us work as copy editors in Chinese state media, but I’ll be taking some time off to concentrate on the magazine.
Can the three of you give us a little background on yourselves? How long have you been in China and how good is your Chinese? But seriously, how did you end up here and why?
JW: I came out to coach soccer after being rejected by the Foreign Office and not really knowing what to do in England. I planned on staying a year. That was the start of 2007.
LC: I moved to Beijing seven years ago. Practical reason: You can still earn a decent wage here as a copy editor. Emotional reason: China runs in my blood.
IS: I came to China because I wanted to work abroad and learn another language, and because I’d never met anybody who’d been here before. I also thought I’d get the chance to try the best beef chow mein in the world. Turns out that was what I left behind.
On to the food, do you remember having a Chinese dish where you were like, “Shut the Front Door that is good!”? What was it? And why was it so good?
LC: I always have that reaction to the first bite of charsiu cheong fun (Cantonese rice noodle rolls with BBQ pork) when it’s freshly steamed and gooey-stretchy.
IS: Shuizhu yu, big chunks of fish coated in spicy oil. Once I learned how to eat it without piercing my throat with a fishbone, it was a revelation. Nothing like it back home.
JW: Peking Duck has long been my favourite dish, ever since I was a kid. British-Chinese cuisine may not be the most exciting food but getting a Chinese takeaway was always a treat. Going to an actual restaurant was even more special. As time has gone on, my exposure has been much wider and more far-reaching – but as blown away as I was by Xinjiang and proper Sichuan and Beijing street food and everything else, every time I go home, we’ll get a Chinese carryout and it’s still a great dining experience. Those kinds of strong feelings are exactly why I wanted to make this magazine.
When people come to visit you, where do you take them eat and for what? Do you have a “This is amazing you have to eat this before you die.” dish?
JW: Depends on who comes to visit. I’m all for getting a few different duck experiences in. Hot pot, too.
IS: There’s a place in Beijing called Najia Xiaoguan that’s my top place for guests. They serve Beijing-Manchu cuisine, with quite a few dishes that you don’t see elsewhere. Also, talking birds.
Let’s talk about texture. Do you have anything that you still won’t eat?
JW: There’s nothing that I won’t eat but I try to avoid anything where mushrooms or tofu are the main part of the dish. They’re not really for me. Having said that, I am expecting to undertake a week of eating nothing but tofu for a future magazine feature.
IS: Not into lotus root at all. Everyone else seems to think it’s great. I’m suspicious of it.
Who is The Cleaver Quarterly for? What are the main audiences you’re hoping to engage with? Are they primarily professional chefs, amateur cooks, weekend gastronomes, lovers of General Tso’s Chicken?
JW: To steal from ODB, The Cleaver Quarterly is for the children. Well, it’s for everyone with an interest in the following things: print magazines, stories, China, Chinese food, food and longform journalism. The world of Chinese food is diverse and our readership is likely to reflect that. It’s all valid, whether it’s Minnesota chow mein, Afghanistan’s only Chinese restaurant, a recipe for Sichuan mulled beer or the story of lampshade beef. That’s the whole point, and we hope that there’s something for everyone.
How did you end up organizing how the magazine will be presented? Chinese food is such a massive topic so I’m curious how you came up with a way to break it down into sections?
IS: We decided early on that sections would be restrictive. It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made.
LC: As an indie quarterly, we have the luxury of keeping TCQ quite free-form to give ourselves maximum flexibility in commissioning and accepting pieces from contributors. We’re not in a hurry to set up any regular columns. We want a good balance of text to visuals, of course, and we are ever-mindful not to allow any one region or country to be overrepresented in an issue. The need for balance also applies to historical vs. contemporary, fast food vs. homestyle vs. gourmet, interviews vs. essays, etc.
JW: Given our previous experience producing an events/listings magazine, what we are most excited about is the absolute freedom that The Cleaver Quarterly offers. If we wanted to feature 17,000 words of poetry on Chinese trucks delivering produce to the city, then we could. The main criteria are: “Do we think it’s interesting?” and “Does including this piece mean we can’t run a similar piece in the same issue?” We want to be representative of the world of Chinese cuisine, so we are aiming to get a balance between the written and the visual, the serious and the lighthearted, inside of China and outside of China, and so on. For Issue 1, we think we did OK but we can do better. We want to get a proper global feel to it, and continue to up the diversity of voices that we feature.
How can people help with your Kickstarter account or otherwise? What are the ways that people can get involved and help?
JW: The Kickstarter support blew us away. We were hopeful that we weren’t mad to pursue this project, but the kindness of our backers and their decision to spend their hard-earned money on The Cleaver Quarterly was vindication for the months and months of late nights and lost sleep. The magazine is now available on our website (thecleaverquarterly.com) but all of the cool Kickstarter rewards were limited-edition and will remain so.
IS: Kickstarter was a great success – we exceeded our funding goal and then raised more money at our “Ice Cream Shakeup,” a competition where all the contestants had to make an ice cream flavor with a Chinese twist.
LC: Now that our Kickstarter campaign is over, we’re fully focused on making a great magazine. Writers, photographers, illustrators, send us your pitches!
People love the “what would you eat for a last meal?” question, any dying wishes in the Chinese food department?
LC: My mom’s eggrolls with rice porridge.
JW: I’d want several last meals but the last would be on a streetside with some longneckers and chuanr. I’d be happy going out as the dawn comes up on that.
IS: Some pork baozi and vinegar for a starter. One roujiamo. Then some lazi ji. Getting cooked in it, probably. Numbed to death.
是什么原因让您创办这本杂志的？从事杂志行业完全是出于对杂志的热爱。所以您在The Cleaver Quarterly之前并未存在的东西中看到了什么？
Jonathan White：在创办The Cleaver Quarterly之前我们都在杂志行业中一起工作，所以“完全出于对杂志的热爱”可能暗示这个项目纯粹是业余的，但实际情况并非如此。去年夏天，我和Lily离开《北京人》杂志（www.thebeijinger.com）。我们并不想那本杂志成为我们做过的最后一本杂志，所以自己创办一些事物似乎是一种很自然的进展。坦白地说，中国菜是一项明显的选择，因为中国菜是世界上最庞大的菜系。我们觉得有很多故事永远无法在其他地方得到发表。
Lilly Chow：关于中国饮食传统和做法的优秀文章（英文）的确存在，但是目前为止，都是一些零星分散的文章。我们想把它凝聚在一起。我们要连点成线。由于中餐已风靡全球并流行数世纪，我们的目标是将流散分支的中国地方小吃并置在一起，来展示它们在杂乱无章且热闹喧嚣的家族中是和谐相处的事物。同时，我们对讲故事和长版详细报道的热爱并不亚于对中餐的热爱，我们非常兴奋地利用The Cleaver Quarterly 作为我们发现并展示志同道合作家想法的平台。
The Cleaver Quarterly季刊将会带来哪些东西，让它能够改变人们对中餐的看法？
The Cleaver Quarterly季刊的读者定位是哪些人群？您们希望互动的主要读者有哪些？主要是职业厨师、业余厨师、周末美食家还是左宗棠鸡的爱好者？
JW：借用我们的对象数据库，The Cleaver Quarterly季刊主要是为儿童服务。当然，也为对下列事物感兴趣的人服务：纸版杂志、故事、中国、中餐、食物和长版新闻报道。中餐世界各式各样，我们的读者很可能对此深思。无论是明尼苏达州炒面，还是阿富汗唯一一家中餐馆，无论是四川热啤酒菜谱还是灯影牛肉的故事，在这里都可以有效地体现出来。这就是要点，我们希望这本杂志对每个人来说都会有一些有用的东西。
JW：鉴于我们之前创作事件/名录杂志的经验，最让我们兴奋的是The Cleaver Quarterly季刊提供的绝对自由。如果我们想要描写一篇17000字关于中国卡车将农产品运往城市的诗歌，我们就可以付诸行动。主要标准是：“我们认为它有趣吗？”以及“把这边文章发表上去是不是就意味着我们不能在同一版次发表另一类似文章？”我们想要成为世界上中国菜的代表性期刊，所以我们的目标是获得书面与视觉的平衡，严肃与轻松的平衡，以及中国内外的平衡等等。第一期，我们觉得做得还不错，但是我们可以做得更好。我们想要赋予它适当的全面性，并继续提升我们所描述的声音的多样性。
JW：Kickstarter的支持让我们很吃惊。过去我们希望我们不会疯狂地追求这个项目，但是我们赞助者的好心以及他们将辛苦挣得的钱花在The Cleaver Quarterly季刊上的决定，表明了我们数月来晚睡熬夜的努力都是必要且值得的。现在可以通过我们的网站(thecleaverquarterly.com) 查看杂志，但是所有好的Kickstarter的奖励都是限量版的，将来也是如此。