Eating with Artists:Chun Yin Rainbow Chan
The chameleon like pop music and multi-disciplinarian artist Rainbow Chan is in the house. Coming across her on the local music station FBI Radio a few years ago, she's been on my favourite playlist ever since. After being introduced to her at her studio at Art Space, I asked if she'd chat about food, and here I am at Marigold Chinese Restaurant having yum cha with Chun Yin Rainbow Chan.
The artist has a variety of personas she adopts to great effect in her music and art practice, but to meet me, she wears wire framed glasses and is dressed in navy; she's on her way to teach a class.
Trained at the Conservatorium, Rainbow plays the saxophone, guitar and piano. With a fascination for Icelandic music, she wrote her Sydney University honours thesis on this subject, featuring the Icelandic artist Bjork. She's come to her art practice with and through music. Surprised by the reactive phrases used in the industry to describe her music as 'cute', 'sexy darling' and 'sounding Asian' Rainbow has been inspired to make works in the form of videos, music, sculpture and fake name brand fashion items which address issues of language appropriation, representation, and globalization, interweaving mythology and technology. This constituted her UNSW Masters of Fine Arts thesis, which continued the journey of her music writing and making, to the art practice.
I'm so excited to have a conversation with such an interesting young woman.
Tina: I'm curious you chose Marigold to meet, Rainbow. Tell me why.
Rainbow: My parents owned a little Chinese take-away in the suburbs when we moved to Australia. Every Sunday we would come into the city for them to get all their supplies for the following week. We would end the visit into the city with a meal at Marigold. I associate it with the time my busy parents could be with us together as a family, sharing a meal. It was a family ritual we all treasured.
Tina:How has Covid affected your life?
Rainbow: Everything stopped or slowed down. I learned to make pasta, gnocchi and noodles from scratch. You could say I really leaned into slow cooking ; beef brisket stews....I think I've perfected that one.
Tina: Ooh, you'll have to share that recipe. The congee, don't forget to eat yours while its warm! I'm asking all these questions and you don't have the time to EAT!
Rainbow: I like my congee with soy sauce, pork belly and youtiao .....
I make congee at home, especially when I'm under the weather.
Tina: I've stumbled across your practice through listening to your music. Rainbow, please tell me how it all fits together or relates to each other?
Rainbow: Yes, there are so many aspects to what I do! FBI was probably where I got my first spring board. I entered a competition they used to run called Northern Lights. The first prize was a trip to the summer music festival in Iceland which I won in 2011!
This launched my music career, and I have to say FBI Radio was really, really supportive.
To earn some money on the side, I tutored saxophone at a local primary school.
At this time, there weren't a lot of female artists in the electronic music arena- I was definitely an outlier.
There weren't many conversations about diversity, inclusion, that sort of thing.
Out of those experiences of feeling a bit of a token in a lineup, and even what people read into my music. I was not influenced by much Chinese music at all! (Laughs)
These issues started me thinking about the role of representation, what cultural norms have in shaping conversations around this.
My visual art practice came out of this- a need to explore and comment in a more critical way.
In the realm of pop music, you only have three minutes, and it is just not enough time to be talking about identity politics in a song!
Tina:Have you learned to cook from your parents?
Rainbow: My mum gave me recipes when I first left home but she would leave an important ingredient out. She told me later on that she did that so that I would come home to eat!
Tina: Okay- so life is busy! You're teaching at the Con, performing late night sets, spending time at your studio when you can. When life is too busy to cope with, how do you eat?
Rainbow: (Laughing) I call my mum! And she always says,' I'll bring food to you!' She expresses her love through food.
My favourite thing that mum makes is this stewed chicken with chestnuts cooked in oyster sauce. Such a beautiful balance of the sweet and savoury, over hot rice, oh!
The other favourite thing I love when I'm super stressed and busy is a pork patty with pickled mustard greens. It is actually just a simple patty, but she insists on chopping the mince herself for the right 'mouthfeel'.
If I'm cooking for myself when I"m busy, I actually turn to something slow cooked. The slowed down process, the aromas of a long cook time all
contribute to reducing my stress levels.
I find food... grounding. When I am super stressed I always return to telling myself: maybe you just need to sit down, drink some tea, and EAT.
Tina: What's a bad food habit you try to keep a secret?
Rainbow: (Laughs) Oh my god, McDonald's chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce, and a hot apple pie! And you know what's really gross? I've discovered that the sweet and sour sauce for the chicken nuggets and the apple pie sauce TASTE THE SAME! Hahahaha!
Rainbow Chan's Beef Brisket recipe:
1 kg beef brisket cut into 1x2 inch pieces
600 g daikon radish cut into 1 inch rounds
5 slices of ginger
3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
2 tbsp chu hou sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand is good)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp rock sugar
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 star anise
2 dried orange peels
1 bay leaf
½ cinnamon stick
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp sesame oil
Spring onion and coriander to garnish
Place beef in a large mixing bowl and blanch with boiling water. Drain and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or large wok, heat up the cooking and sesame oil. Saute ginger and garlic until fragrant.
Add chu hou, oyster and hoisin sauce and stir fry on low for about a minute.
Turn heat back up to medium and add beef. Brown for about 3 minutes.
Add daikon, bay leaf, orange peel, star anise, cinnamon and Shaoxing wine. Give everything a good stir.
Add light, dark soy sauce and rock sugar. Toss to coat.
Add 2 cups of water and bring to boil.
Give everything another stir and turn the heat to low. Simmer with lid on for at least 2.5 hours.
Stir every 30 minutes or so.
Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
Serve with white rice and garnish with spring onions and coriander.
I love using the beef brisket juices to cook gailan or choysum as a side dish to this hearty meal.
All images supplied by and with permission of the artist.
Listen to a Rainbow Chan track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuSj_kC215s&list=RDTuSj_kC215s&start_radio=1&t=73
More information on the artist: https://www.chunyinrainbowchan.com