By Amanda Rowell
Ni Hao, Y’all!
It’s not every day that you hear this type of greeting, but thanks to the Chinese American mother-daughter team Margaret and Natalie Keng, otherwise known as Atlanta’s Chinese Southern Belles, more and more Georgians are growing familiar with the idea of Southern-Asian fusion cooking.
Margaret came to the United States from Taiwan on an academic scholarship in the early 1960s. As a full time schoolteacher and mother of three, Margaret was forced to adapt the dishes that she was familiar with to fit her tight schedule and limited access to ethnic ingredients. The result was what daughter Natalie refers to as their “Buddha to Bubba” cooking style, or dishes like “Hot Hunan Catfish” or “Five Spice Rutabaga.”
Natalie left Georgia and the family restaurant that she had been familiar with since the young age of 8 to attend Vassar College and Harvard’s Kennedy School, where she earned her master’s degree in Public Policy and Management. After some years of working in marketing and public relations, she returned home to put together a documentary about her family’s journey from China to the Deep South.
Enthused by the assignment, Natalie used her background in public relations to start a business with her mother called Chinese Southern Belles with the goal of awakening Atlantans to the possibilities that lie with integrating Asian and Southern ingredients and cooking techniques.
Natalie describes the new business as a showcase of her family’s passion for food, family and their heritage with added attention to her own interests in local markets and healthy living. “The dishes,” she explains, “are a reflection of who we are and a fascinating but overlooked multicultural facet of Southern culture.”
The Chinese Southern Belles have a lot to offer Atlanta, including catering, cooking classes, and their increasingly popular Asian Market Tours. For more information and for a list of upcoming market tours and classes, visit www.ChineseSouthernBelle.com. Natalie also maintains an entertaining and educational blog that can be accessed at www.ChineseSouthernBelle.blogspot.com.