Welcome to Chef Notes. A special space where we intend to go deeper and share more authentic stories with the world. These are the stories that we hope will be a light in your day and inspire you to see the world differently. These stories are all created and composed, because we are curious and know that there is more underneath the surface of a shiny restaurant. These are the stories that are rich in Diversity, Grit, Heartache and Hope. This is work that is unpaid.
What intrigues me about the restaurant industry is this: It’s made up of a family of individuals, from fiercely different backgrounds, who work long hours, sacrifice time with their families and work in one of the most intense environments - all to give their guests an incredible meal. It’s made up of people who are creative, determine and often times high on drugs just to make it through a shift. They have a sort of performance during service and they do it because they love it. They do it because they believe in it. They do it to provide for their families. And the do it for others - to create an experience for one dinner that could be one of the best moments in a person’s life.
I believe it’s important to tell these stories, so we created a place for it. This is Chef Notes by The Restaurant Project.
Adjusting to life in the United States was tough at the beginning. There was a lot of political views towards the Hmong culture and neighbors were cruel. On some occasions, they would smash their mailbox and even leave dead fish or animal carcases in the driveway. But Choua and Nhia pressed on and embedded themselves in the community. As more Hmong people moved to the area, Choua became the leader of the Moua Clan for the state of Wisconsin. This means he is the leader of their community. Hmong Americans are organized into an 18-Clan structure; all members of a clan recognize that they are related by a common ancestor.
To this day, Choua still goes to work in a factory called Linetec, while Nhia began working the land full time. She grows plentiful crops - full of gorgeous flowers and produce. During our visit, we talked to Diane and her Family about life, love, heartache and success:
What things are you most proud of?
Nhia: My garden and the time she has to work on it.
Nhia: She is a stay at home grandmother. She loves to watch her grandkids grow up, because she never had a change to watch her own children grow - due to work.
Choua: My American Dream
Choua: I have a house and Land. I have children and Grandchildren. I am a leader for the community and Moua Council of Wisconsin.
Diane herself is a giant success story. Married at 16, Diane became a young mother to two amazing children. It’s clear that she got her work ethic from her parents. She went to school and is currently one of the best pastry chefs of our time. But these days her definition of success is a little different. Diane made the hard decision to get divorced, to find personal happiness and freedom from the culture that she very much embraces. It’s her mission to show the world, and those in the Hmong community, that women can be both independent and equal - and can also thrive at their dream.
She also wants to be able to take care of her parents, just as well as her brothers.
Diane is happy with her new-found freedom and I would even say empowered. When it comes to the kitchen, she’s continuing to be a game-changer for women to lead the way.
Late in the summer, we ventured into the depths of Wisconsin to visit the Farm of Nhia V. Moua and Choua Der Moua. Their daughter, Diane Yang, is a James Beard nominated pastry chef and we wanted to see where her roots came from.
When Choua met his future wife, Nhia, he only had one pair of clothes. Those clothes were both his ‘Best outfit’ for their dates and also their pillow at night. They moved across the world to the United States in March of 1982 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1993, life took them to a little farm in Wisconsin where they call home.