‘It is us sharing our joy’

AVONDALE — Two local chefs who have gained a following by selling Asian-American food on Instagram and in pop-ups will bring a market dedicated to Asian culture to Avondale this month.

Cat Pham, who sells Vietnamese noodle dishes on Instagram, and Ash Lemasters, the chef behind vegan bento box pop-up Snackie Chan, are behind the first Azn Pryde Market, scheduled for May 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Metropolitan Brewing, 3057 N Rockwell Street

Nearly three dozen Asian vendors selling everything from jewelry to pottery are scheduled to take part in the event. A group of Asian chefs including Pham and Lemasters will prepare a pay-what-you-can cafeteria-style meal for market goers.

The two chefs aim to create a welcoming and inclusive space for Chicagoans to celebrate Asian culture, they said.

“It’s us sharing our joy and our food,” Lemasters said.

Pham, 35, and Lemasters, 33, said they weren’t sure where they would fit into the Asian-American community growing up. Pham was raised by Vietnamese immigrants in Uptown, while Lemasters, who is half Chinese, grew up in Cleveland.

“I have been on a journey of discovery and reconnection with culture in recent years. I have been dealing with a sense of impostor syndrome, growing up biracial and not feeling connected to my Asian heritage,” Lemasters said.

But as they got older, they found a sense of purpose and community in cooking and preparing Asian food, they said.

The two met while doing pop-ups around town.

Lemasters said he was drawn to Pham and his Vietnamese noodle dishes, which were “very authentic, very rooted in the culture,” which felt like the opposite of the tuna bowls and vegan dishes he makes.

Pham “said, ‘There’s room for all of us,’ and I knew he was someone I really wanted to work with,” Lemasters said.

At first, the two planned to host a Lunar New Year event together, but those plans did not materialize. Those talks morphed into the launch of an Asian market with a “huge emphasis on mutual aid and joy,” Lemasters said.

Azn Pryde Market will showcase a variety of Asian-American vendors from across the city, from established business owners to creatives selling wares as a hobby, Lemasters said.

Vendors have agreed to donate 5 to 10 percent of their profits to organizations that support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. For a list of providers, go here.

Unlike traditional markets, where vendors sell food and drinks, Azn Pryde Market will offer a “very immigrant, family-style” meal prepared by chefs from a variety of Asian backgrounds, from South Indian to Filipino, and served in metal trays in a community. table, Pham said.

The food will cost market goers what they can afford, thanks to private donations and sponsorship from District 46 committee member Sean Tenner and attorney Stephen Swedlow.

“We both have a strong belief that food should be accessible, that it’s a right, not a privilege,” Pham said.

Lemasters said the market has far exceeded his expectations, attracting so much interest from suppliers that they have had to turn some away.

From the pay-what-you-can food and vendors to 2000s-themed marketing flyers, the event resonates with Chicagoans from across the Asian diaspora, Pham said.

“As we become adults, a lot of trauma has resurfaced for us,” he said. “We really got through it and learned new things about ourselves. This market provides that community. Let’s share it together, not in pain, but enjoy the joy.”

If the May 22 market is a success, the two chefs hope to host an even bigger event in the fall.

Pham said they want to build “a sense of community and alliance because of what has been happening in the Asian-American community in recent years.”

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen sharply in the United States in recent years.

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