Almost every video begins with Randy’s father, Chung Sun Lau (known as “Daddy Lau”), proudly declaring the name of the recipe he will be demonstrating in Cantonese with a big smile and an occasional thumbs up. “He’s a natural on the camera,” Randy says. The channel’s 900,000 subscribers can feel it too. Daddy Lau has 50 years of experience as a chef and former restaurant owner. His expertise comes through in content ranging from how to get the most flavor from dried scallops to how to sharpen your knife at home.
Although Daddy Lau is the star in the kitchen, three generations of the family are involved in the production. Each video ends with Daddy Lau, his wife Jenny Lau (known as “Mommy Lau”), Randy, Kat, and their two kids eating and chatting together at the dinner table. Mommy Lau gives viewers additional context and history on the dishes; Kat asks the burning questions about ingredient substitutes that all eager viewers are secretly wondering about; Randy mixes viewers’ questions into the family banter; and the kids offer a level of cuteness you simply can’t prepare yourself for.
It’s a multi-generational effort, and we get to see three generations of a family rally together around food. Members of the family switch between Cantonese and English depending on what they’re talking about and who they are talking to. In some of these intimate moments, you forget the video is filmed — everything about the switching of languages, huge platters of food, and big family table feels so right.
But over time, the channel has evolved to show viewers more of who Daddy and Mommy Lau are beyond the kitchen and dining room. Through YouTube shorts, Randy asks them questions like, “Mom, what brings you joy?” or “What was hard about immigrating to America?”
“These videos don’t always perform as well,” Kat says, “but they’re important to us and our family.” Although these videos are personal, sharing the immigration stories of the Laus along with their successes, passions, and failures is important given the history of Chinese restaurants and restaurant owners in America.
Today, it’s too easy to enjoy cheap and fast Chinese takeout and ignore the labor of the chefs behind the kitchen or the owners that make this experience possible. There are tons of articles about Chinese food, but there are rarely any about Chinese chefs and restaurant workers.
The Chinese restaurant industry emerged after the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which banned Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. unless they qualified for “merchant status.” This expanded to include restaurant owners, and Chinese restaurants became a site in which Chinese people qualified for this merchant status and fought for their citizenship. However, many of these Chinese workers received wages far below the average for restaurant workers.
I think of my own parents, uncles, and aunts, all of whom worked in Chinese restaurants at some point in their lives in the U.S. Yes, people like Daddy Lau are chefs, but they are also people with immigration stories, passions (such as flute playing for Daddy Lau), and families.
In their video on how to make General Tso’s chicken, Randy explores the dark history of Chinese food in America as well. He reminds viewers that debating whether General Tso’s chicken is authentic or not isn’t the most relevant discussion when we consider the historical context that General Tso’s chicken was cooked by Chinese immigrants as a way to make a living in restaurants when anti-Chinese discrimination was rampant in the early 1900s. “We were nervous about including this history in case there was any backlash,” Kat says. But viewers responded positively, and the Laus continued to use their platform to show that behind the delicious Chinese food that so many people enjoy are personal stories and histories that are important too.
The Laus are now using their platform to support elder AAPI business owners like Daddy Lau. Through their recipe videos, interview shorts, and content, they are pushing the bounds of what a cooking channel can be. They show us the multi-dimensionality of Asian Americans as chefs, creators, parents, and dreamers.
When asked what she is most proud of given the channel’s growth over the last year, Kat answers with hesitation: “Randy.” She turns to face him. “Your goal was always to emotionally connect with others and your parents. You did that.”
Credits: Made with Lau
Last modified: November 15, 2022