Paola + Murray Discover San Francisco and New York's Chinatowns for Food & Wine
Home isn’t just a place, but also a people, an energy, and definitely food. Traveling across the globe can make home feel very far away, unless, of course, we bring home with us. Groups of Chinese immigrants who found themselves in New York and San Francisco both have created their own homes carving out a Chinatown in each city and just recently Food & Wine magazine asked photography duo Paola + Murray to get a taste of each.
The two started in San Francisco, heading to Mr Jiu, a restaurant that sits above the street and is known for its design as much as it’s known for its food. “The restaurant itself holds a very sensual energy. When we arrived almost at sunset this incredible warm, golden light was beaming through the floor to ceiling windows,” says Paola. “It was a truly magical moment.” They were welcomed by Brandon and Anne-Lee Jew, the married chef and designer team behind the restaurant. The menu and space is as much a representation of them and their relationship as it is of the culture that surrounds them. Paola + Murray wanted to capture it all.
“The presentation of each dish hit all our senses in one, first the visual satisfaction of very attractive plating followed by the scents of exotic ingredients that enhanced the desire of tasting these incredible creations,” says Paola. “All of these elements inspired us to re-create the lighting, keeping it as authentic and close to reality as possible. We wanted to make it look as if we had used the natural golden light coming through the windows. We strive to show our viewers what we see and taste and feel and we hope we conveyed those emotions as well as smells and tastes through our images.”
Being in California, San Francisco’s Chinatown has a specific energy, exactly what Paola + Murray translated into pictures. But when they boarded a plane to head back home to New York City to face the Chinatown there, they thought were heading right back to a place they knew. After spending time in San Francisco, they saw NYC’s Chinatown again for the first time.
“When we landed back in NYC and headed to Chinatown to photograph Nom Wah Tea Parlor we could not help but notice how this Chinatown was the one of hustling, loud vendors, of smells of dry fish, mysterious ingredients and cigarette smoke,” says Paola. “Although we have been to Chinatown a million times this was different, our senses were enhanced and made us realize how opposite yet complimentary this was from the Chinatown in San Francisco.” Anyone’s first time in New York’s Chinatown experiences the assault on the senses that dulls over time as we experience it over and over. But Paola + Murray got to start new and bring that experience to their audience who may not have the luxury of dropping in on Canal Street whenever they want.
All told, both assignments came together into a sort of uber experience, exploring how shared heritage can shift and grow into different shapes based on context. “This assignment definitely increased our desire to head to China and explore the vast, mysterious, controversial country but also made us curious about what is at our doorstep, making us realize how much there is to enjoy in the country we live in,” explains Paola. “We truly hope our viewers feel the same excitement while looking at our images and reading the words that go with them.”