Rap and Fine Dining: The Mix in The Heartsick Diaspora with Hyphen magazine

Leland Cheuk: I love a good ol’ ghost story, of which there are a few in the collection, but my favorite stories of yours are the ones in contemporary milieus like the fine dining kitchen or the mind of a mom who is super into hip-hop. There’s rap and food throughout the collection, and in “Chronicles of a Culinary Poseur,” there’s both. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired the story? Did you spend time working in a fine dining kitchen?

Elaine Chiew: It’s fun to hear what stories appealed to a reader and why, so thank you! I did spend a week working in an Italian fine dining kitchen in New York City while researching a novel about haute cuisine and hip-hop (buried now in novel boneyard). I was intrigued by the class divide I saw from the kitchen peephole. Outside, the diners come to dine in their finery and spend easily upwards of hundreds of dollars per meal; inside the kitchen, the line cooks earn little more than minimum wage, and it is usually staffed by ethnic minorities, and yes, hip-hop music blares in the kitchen. Peepholes and doorways figure in several of the stories in the collection, for a reason — they often act as boundaries, keeping out (excluding) as well as keeping in (maintaining, protecting), but so flimsy and so porous. As a fellow writer, don’t you often feel that we as writers exist as translators or conduits or doormen? We stand at these liminal thresholds where we present contrasts by juxtaposing them. As service to story. Not to judge, but often as facilitator, “Look, look at, look through; perceive.”

Leland Cheuk interviews Elaine Chiew, author of The Heartsick Diaspora and other short stories for Hyphen magazine.