Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Su-Mei Yu's Savor San Diego Hits KPBS This Thursday

San Diego food lovers know Su-Mei Yu, the longtime owner of Saffron in Mission Hills. She's been a culinary fixture in the community for well over 25 years, as both restaurateur and cookbook author with titles including Asian Grilling, Cracking the Coconut, and The Elements of Life. So with that deep a connection to food and to San Diego it only makes sense that she has now turned her talents and enthusiasm to television to show off many of the local producers who represent what she considers the best of San Diego's foodstuff.

Su-Mei Yu with farmer Noel Stehly at Stehly Farms in Valley Center

Her new show, Savor San Diego, debuts this Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS (airing again on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m.). The six episodes taped so far reflect the diversity of Su-Mei's interests: hand-crafted tofu, grass-fed beef, avocado oil, citrus, seafood, farmers markets and community gardens. These far-ranging subjects, however, have something besides being local to San Diego in common--they exist to get people back into the kitchen. And that, says, Su-Mei, is why she's tackling this project.

"I did it because I want people to cook again," she emphasizes. "We have so much bounty. I want people to see what's available because it's all so good."

Su-Mei learning how tofu is made, with owner Shawn Daniels in purple apron.

Su-Mei is a big and lively personality and it comes through in the first episode, which I viewed on Saturday at a launch party she hosted. It's aptly named "The Yin-Yang of Protein"since it features a tofu maker and rancher. Each episode of Savor San Diego is divided into three segments, a focus on two different venues and then a short cooking segment that ties the two together. In this first episode Su-Mei first visits San Diego Soy Dairy in El Cajon, which for more than 30 years has made organic, small-batch tofu. Su-Mei cheerfully dons an apron and billowy blue hair cap, then eagerly follows owner Shawn Daniels around the plant as she--and we--learn how tofu is made.

The city girl from Bangkok on horseback with rancher Joel Mendenhall.
We next see Su-Mei up in Palomar Mountain on the Mendenhall Ranch and through her meet low-key  sixth-generation rancher Joel Mendenhall, who for several years has partnered with Matt Rimel in producing HomeGrown Meats. Su-Mei's bravado in getting up on a horse to tour the property comes through in her laughing plea to Mendenhall that, "I'm just a city girl from Bangkok!" She's then hoisted onto the horse and trots off behind the young cowboy. We learn from Mendenhall about the benefits of grass-fed beef and how the cattle are raised.

Then comes the tie-in with an open-air cooking demo on the ranch. Su-Mei, with Mendenhall beside her, prepares "Mama Yu's Beef & Tofu Stir Fry." It's a simple recipe, packed with protein obviously, but also lots of vegetables--and certainly accessible to the home cook.

Each episode of Savor San Diego, says Su-Mei, took two days to film. What made it easier was that, other than the fishermen, she knew everyone featured. "I've been cooking with their ingredients for years."

Su-Mei in the Olivewood Gardens teaching kitchen.
One episode, however, veers away from the vendors and reflects her social work background.  "Cultivating Communities" features the New Roots Garden in City Heights and Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. "I'm involved in community, in refugees. Once a social worker, always a social worker," she says. These two places touch her heart, not only because they grow  fresh, healthy food, but because their mission is to educate neighborhoods and help build community. Clearly this is a way for her to show how powerful that can be.

You can see the show promo here:

Savor San Diego - KPBS Promo from FortyOneTwenty on Vimeo.

You can also learn more about Savor San Diego and get the recipes on www.savorsdtv.com. Additionally, Saffron is offering a premiere special on Thursday, May 2: One whole chicken, jasmine rice, Cambodian salad and five dipping sauces for $14. And, they suggest pre-ordering.

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