Fabulous Food and Film Await at CAAMFest 2023

By Geneva Anderson

(May 12, 2023)


When it comes to Asian-focused cinema, nothing beats the Bay Area’s CAAMFest.  The 11-day festival, which prides itself on culturally relevant stories that you won’t see anywhere else, offers 55 events grouped under film, music, food, and ideas.  For the first time since 2019, CAAMfest will be a fully in-person experience and the programming reflects the reality that people have been changed by the pandemic; that they think, feel and engage differently. Browse the program and let yourself be moved by the call to gather and “to lift each other up after in the audacity of our stories.”  

The 41st edition kicked off Thursday, May 11 at the historic Castro Theater with Joy Ride, a comedic international journey of self-discovery involving four unlikely friends, from director Adele Lim, who co-wrote the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians and Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.  The film was followed by the ritual gala at the Asian Art Museum with curated bites, sips and beats.

Joyride cast at CAAMFest Opening Night- (from left) Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola, Sabrina Wu and Ashley Park.

Of course, food and stories are the great nourishers, the cement that we bond over.  What stands out this year is CAAMFest’s new food programming—six enticing food experiences celebrating Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Iranian, Jamaican, Korean and Hawaiian cuisine and their winding foodways and histories.  These events are spread all across the Bay Area, at Abacá, Calabash, Great Star Theatre, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, KQED headquarters, and The New Parkway Theater.  Organized under the helm of the energetic and well-connected new Festival and Exhibitions Director, Thúy Trần, they feature one-of-kind menu collaborations with top chefs, informative and endearing documentaries, a cookbook signing, and a storytelling event exploring the culinary and cultural landscape of soy—and each of these gatherings offers either a full meal or bites paired with conversations meant to inspire.  

The exploration goes even deeper with the new “Futurist Flavors” food subseries which highlights chefs who are visionaries, “futurists,” who have a unique vision of how we cook and eat together and who are working to establish a more collaborative kitchen culture at two events: “Abacá x Animae” and “Calabash.” Up until now, CAAMFest’s audience food programming has been traditional—a food story on film.  These events are game changers for CAAMFest.

Thúy Trần, CAAMFest’s Festival and Exhibitions Director. She joined CAAM in 2015 as Guest Services and Travel Coordinator and moved to CAAMFest in January 2022. Photo courtesy of CAAM.

“I attended my first CAAMFest in 2015,” recalls Thúy Trần, “Just being in the theater and sitting with a room full of Asian Americans and having this collective experience was so unique and fulfilling; it exposed me to things I hadn’t encountered before. …CAAMFest is unique because, in addition to film, it offers music and food and explores the Asian American palette in all these multidisciplinary spaces.  We’re moving in a direction where artists are more versatile than ever before and there’s a lot of intersectionality between topics, genres, and platforms. One thing informs the other.  I wanted to build out the festival’s food programming and use it as a platform for connection.”

Trần came to CAAM from San Francisco’s JCCSF (Jewish Community Center) where she developed their “Foodways” series—meal gatherings that brought together chefs and experts in conversations reflecting on family histories and cultural identity.  She also co-founded Rooted Recipes Project culinary collective which creates spaces and gatherings that bring together culinary artists and creatives in an evening of dining, conversation and storytelling. 

“We all gravitate towards food but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” says Trần.  We want to draw people in with food and let the programming enrich them with meaningful information about our history and culture. Stories can be as emotionally and spiritually nourishing as a meal.  We’re experimenting with a number of themes in these new events to see how people connect and react.”  



Friday, May 12, 2023: Benkyodo: The Last Manju Shop in J-Town , 5-9 pm, Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California SOLD OUT 

Third generation Benkyodo owners, brothers Ricky and Bobby Okamura, film still “Benkyodo: the Last Manju Shop in J-town.”  Image: courtesy CAAM

I still remember the pillow-softness of the last kinako-dusted mochi I ate at Benkyodo and the shop’s unhurried environment.  One of the first businesses to open in Japantown in 1906, Benkyodo was a family-owned confectionary shop beloved for its handmade delectable mochi and manjus.  It closed in 2022 during the pandemic, after 115 years in business, making it Japantown’s first and last traditional Japanese American confectionary. This special evening celebrates Benkyodo with the world premiere of Tadashi Nakamura and Akira Boch’s short documentary, Benkyodo: the Last Manju Shop in J-town (2023), which covers the shop’s last six months in business.  Eryn Kimura, the producer, is the niece of the owner and the film bears her loving stamp.  Director Tadashi Nakamura is no stranger to issues of legacy, coming from the Nakamura film dynasty.  His father Robert Nakamura, mother Karen Ishizuka, both celebrated filmmakers, were honored at the 30th SFIAAF (CAAMFest before its rebranding). Following the screening, there will be a panel conversation facilitated by Cecilia Lei of The Chronicle & Fifth & Mission Podcast and, after that, a reception with bites and beats. 

Saturday, May 13:  Ever-Green Vietnamese with Andrea Nguyen and Soleil Ho, noon, Great Star Theatre, SF  

Andrea Nguyen, Image: courtesy CAAM, copyright © 2023 Aubrie Pick.

What better way to greet the bounty of local spring produce than with Andrea Nguyen, the Godmother of Vietnamese cooking.  The beloved Bay Area author and chef returns in conversation with Soleil Ho, the James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic, to discuss Nguyen’s seventh cookbook, Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea.  

Vietnamese foodways have long been steeped in the resourcefulness of its cooks, in rich Buddhist traditions, and an emphasis on vegetables, herbs, fruits, plant-based protein and seafood.  Nguyen has built on this foundation to craft accessible plant-forward recipes that push Vietnamese flavors to new heights.  Expect to come away with delicious nourishing recipes and tips to guide your own cooking.  The book is born from Nguyen’s personal experience.  Driven by the realities mid-life physiological changes and perimenopause, Nguyen reimagined her favorite Vietnamese dishes, lifting enticing flavors, textures, and colors from the vegetable kingdom, while ditching high fat and animal protein.  In the process, she debunked common perceptions of Viet cooking as just beefy pho and meat-filled sandwiches and led us to this smart, health conscious evolution of Vietnamese food. The conversation will be followed by a book signing with Eastwind Books.

Reprinted with permission from Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2023. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Photographs copyright © 2023 by Aubrie Pick.

Sunday, May 14: “AYCE (All You Can Eat) Food Shorts,” 6:15pm, Roxie, SF

If you like samplings of many cinematic tastes, AYCE is for you featuring five very different food films with Indonesian, Cambodian, Pakistani and Japanese flavors.

Tuesday, May 16: “Futurist Flavors: Abacá x Animae,” 5 & 7:30 pm seatings, Abacá, 2700 Jones St, SF

Executive Chef Tara Monsod, Animae.  Image: © JTran Photos LLC

CAAMFest’s first fine dining audience experience is a 12 course extravaganza served family style—a unique  collaboration between Executive Chef Tara Monsod of Animae, the San Diego-based wagu steakhouse, and James Beard nominated Chef-Owner Francis Ang of Abacá, San Francisco’s Filipino restaurant.  The evening, at elegant Abacá, located inside the Kimpton Alton Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, has been designed to transport you into and beyond diaspora, time, and place.  Starting with cocktails infused with southeast Asian flavors like calamansi and finishing with delectable classic sweets like pineapple hopia, strawberry pichi pichi, carioca, all with modern touches, you’re going to be all set for a conversation between the two chefs. Yana Gilbuena of Salo Series will moderate the conversation exploring their Filipino roots, their approach to collaboration and team-building, and their bold unapologetic flavor profiles.

“Both Chef Francis and Chef Tara are creating this inclusive and very creative kitchen space with their staff,” says Thúy Trần, who chose them to premiere the new “Futurist Flavors” programming. “They each have a strong opinion on cultural expression of the food. Bringing them together to collaborate on a meal and seeing how they have supported each other makes me very hopeful: it directly challenges this idea of fierce competition in the industry which is so prevalent on mainstream media in shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen.   

Wednesday, May 17: Futurist Flavors: Calabash, 6pm, Calabash, 2300 Valdez St., Ste A, Oakland

Chefs Nigel Jones and Hanif Sadr, co-founders/partners Calabash.  Image: courtesy Calabash

The calabash is a gourd with multidisciplinary properties, carried from Asia to Africa, Europe and the Americas through human migration.  It’s been turned into food, tools, instruments, and utensils.  Calabash is a joint endeavor by Chef Nigel Jones (formerly Kingston 11) and Chef Hanif Sadr (Komaaj) to create a hybrid restaurant-market-bar-events space that has the multifunctional magic of its namesake.  For years, the two envisioned gathering chefs from all around the world and cooking dishes from different parts of the world in one warm and welcoming location.  Calabash in uptown Oakland is their space, bringing flavors and foodways from Iran to Mexico to the Caribbean and beyond. Rather than offering bland interpretations of global food, Calabash partners with chefs to interpret and innovate their native flavors.  Chef Sadr’s passion for gathering and preserving native ingredients to push flavors is the focus of Preserving TasteGelareh Kiazand’s forthcoming documentary, which traces his food legacy in Northern Iran. (Watch for more about the film on EatDrinkFilms soon).

For CAAMFest, Calabash presents an evening of cocktails and Jamaican, Afro-Caribbean and Iranian cuisine, served buffet style, from its star chefs and a moderated conversation about their unique vision for gathering and cooking.  Chef Hanif Sadr will prepare Iranian mezze. Chef Nigel will prepare a selection of Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean appetizers. 

Try the recipe for Chef Hanif Sadr’s Zeitun Parvedeh (here), marinated olives with walnuts, pomegranate molasses, garlic, mint, basil, Persian hogweed, olive oil.   

Thursday, May 18:  A Soy Story with Second Generation Seeds, 7pm, KQED Headquarters, 2601 Mariposa St, SF

Kristyn Leach, Second Generation Seeds

There’s a story here! Soy has gone from being a humble Asian staple to a full-fledged global commodity, showing up in a big way in the plant-based world, and, most recently as a villain in the plant-based discourse.  CAAMFest seized the moment to unpack soy and to introduce farmer and activist Kristyn Leach of Second Generation Seeds who knows the mighty bean intimately and cherishes it as a vehicle for cultural expression. Her growers’ collaborative is fostering kinships all across the Asian diaspora as they work to preserve, adapt and breed beloved heirloom crops of the diaspora, like the soy bean. In the process, they affirm that culture is rooted in imagination, not just memories.  A Soy Story will feature farmer Kristyn Leach; Chef Steve Joo of Joodooboo who will create a tofu dish; eco-educator Aileen Suzara; and singer/musician/artist Dohee Lee who will enact a soy story performance.  QT Viet Cafe will serve a Viet soft tofu pudding with a ginger-palm sugar-pandan syrup and a creamy coconut milk sauce.  The host for the evening will be Cecilia Lei, host and producer of Fifth & Mission Podcast.

Black Chestnut Soybean (Bam Kong), a native soybean from Korea. Primarily used in kong bap, where they impart a chestnut flavor to the rice.  Soybeans have played an indispensable role in sustainable farming systems in Korea, and other parts of East Asia. (Photo courtesy Kristyn Leach)

Friday May 19: Family Ingredients, Season 3 preview with Raiatea Helm, 6 pm, New Parkway Theater, Oakland

Raiatea Helm shares her music with Ed Kinney of “Family Ingredients,” photo: Renea Gavrilov Stewart

The Emmy-nominated lifestyle series, Family Ingredients, celebrating Hawai’i’s diversity through food and untold stories, is returning for its third season.  Two new episodes from Season 3 will screen, followed by a conversation with the co-host of these two episodes, Grammy-nominated vocalist Raiatea Helm, Producer Heather Haunani Giugni and Producer/Cinematographer Renea Gavrilov Stewart.  This evening will conclude with a performance by Raiatea and a festive reception. 

From Moloka‘i, the island where Raiatea was born and raised, to Kaua‘i, where her maternal roots are deeply connected to the salt ponds of Hanapēpē, these two episodes follow Raiatea as she explores her ancestral story. That story that is intertwined with island delicacies like poke and Hanapēpē’s pa‘akai (sea salt or, literally, “to solidify the sea”) which natives use to season and preserve food, for religious and ceremonial purposes, and as medicine.  What is revealed is a love story of broken hearts, a royal scandal, and a family secret. Raiatea’s family genealogy becomes the well from which springs her passion for music, love of the land, and the history that she is committed to share.  

Watch Season 2 and try recipes on PBS.

View the full Program and buy tickets at CAAMFest here. Tickets are being released for food programs that were previously “Sold Out”…check the website frequently. 


Geneva Anderson is a free-lance writer based in rural Penngrove, CA who writes on art, film, food, identity, and cultural heritage.  She is the editor of ARThound, an online arts publication.  She grew up on a small farm in Petaluma, CA, with animals and gardens.  A graduate of UC Berkeley, Princeton, and Columbia School of Journalism, she covered the transition of Eastern Europe from state socialism and reported for seven years from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey.  She has also worked on assignment in Asia, Cuba, Mexico, South America.

She has written or done photography for ArtArteARTnewsThe Art NewspaperBalkanBalkan NewsBudapest Sun, EatDrinkFilmsFlash ArtNeue Bildende KunstSculptureEIUEuromoneyThe International EconomyThe Press DemocratThe Argus Courier,Vanity Fair,  Global Finance, and others.  She is passionate about Rhodesian Ridgebacks and currently has two, Frieda and Ruby Rose.


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