Poets in the Kitchen fosters community spirit

Johnny D Trinh mixes cooking with spoken word performance for Culture Days at CityScape

Over a scrumptious dish of steamed salmon coated in soy, ginger and scallions, a group of artists will perform their story.

No mere cooking show, Poets in the Kitchen, a free event featuring culinary arts and spoken word taking place tomorrow at CityScape Community Art Space in Lower Lonsdale, is slated to showcase cooking as a means for celebrating culture and fostering community.

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The concept is the brainchild of Johnny D Trinh, a Vancouver-based artist and performer who traffics in spoken word, music, theatre, video, social media and a host of other interdisciplinary fields. The concept came to him a few years ago while he was getting his MFA at the University of Regina, he notes.

“Specifically my fields of study are community engaged art, socially engaged art, autobiographical performance – telling your own story and the cultural context of that,” Trinh tells the North Shore News.

As part of that, he started filming a series a few years back called Poets in the Kitchen and posting it to his YouTube channel. The mini episodes would generally feature something getting cooked, along with some discussion or performance of spoken word.

“I’m really interested in how we perform ourselves and present ourselves online and in video,” says Trinh.

Now that concept is hitting the stage for Culture Days, a national celebration of Canadian culture being held Sept. 28-30. With support from the North Vancouver Community Arts Council and Lift Breakfast Bakery, Trinh will prepare his steamed salmon dish in a cooking show-style format for a live audience, followed by spoken word and poetry performances from artists Johnny MacRae, Anjalica Solomon, Andrew Warner and himself.

“We talk about what it means to celebrate culture,” he starts, “but for a lot of us from different countries sometimes what it means to bring home for us, to create home, means importing food that’s not actually here.”

His salmon dish, explains Trinh, is something he grew up eating even though the dish, which is rooted in Asian cuisine, traditionally uses a white fish. Given the West Coast’s and much of Canada’s affinity for salmon, he feels like it’s an appropriate substitution. Paraphrasing a quote from David Chang, a venerable American restaurateur and food personality, Trinh notes: “Amazing foods are ones that are maybe completely new to you or foreign to you but bring you right home with a sense of nostalgia and familiarity.”

Maybe if viewers can see Trinh cook his own food, explain his process and the importance it carries for him, they’ll be able to further connect and understand him, and ultimately we’ll all be able to better connect with each other, too, he muses.

“I just wanted to make sure we had that chance to have that dialogue because I think that when you have a gathering of friends or family or community there has to be some discussion,” says Trinh.

Asked about the significance of pairing poetry and cooking, Trinh says he sees it as paying homage to the great tradition of sharing and storytelling that might occur following an epic meal.

“It’s definitely a nod back and a representation of the legacy of oral history and oral tradition and storytelling. We think about a gathering of friends or family and it’s storytelling, there’s discussions afterwards,” he says.

Trinh’s hesitant to try and categorize the content of the other artists’ spoken word performances that’ll take place during the event, but says his own performance will skew to his experience living in Vancouver, family and food. He offers that his artist guests, who all also call the North Shore home, may touch on their “connection to this land.”

Space is limited for tomorrow’s event (those wishing to snag a spot are encouraged to register by emailing camila@northvanarts.ca), but Trinh ensures there’ll be plenty of opportunity through cyberspace for those who want to catch a glimpse of Poets in the Kitchen.

“For a lot of people maybe they can’t get out of their house or travel much. What are things we can do to engage them?” Trinh says.

His plan? Visit instagram.com/johnnydtrinh tomorrow in order to watch a livestream of the performance, which will be archived for later viewing. “People can actually just watch the video from wherever they are and still enjoy all the nuances of watching a great cooking show and also seeing a concert of great artists sharing their work.”

While he contends that Poets in the Kitchen will foster his consistent artistic goal of creating a sense of empowerment and compassion through community-based art, the goal is not necessarily to give a voice to the voiceless. Their voices have been there all along, says Trinh.

“I believe that people have been talking for a long time. I believe marginalized voices and marginalized people have been speaking for a long time and it’s about creating opportunities for people to listen.”

And for those that show up to the event in person, they’ll be able to listen to those voices while sampling some delicious steamed fish, he adds.



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