My Folklore: Food Stylist Megan Hysaw on the Link Between Culture, Food and Community
Whether it be through a weekend BBQ, a brunch with friends, or a celebratory dinner, the power of a good meal cannot be overstated. The indulgent experience of enjoying a delicious meal is one part of the reason why food stylist, host, and influencer Megan Hysaw began her career in the culinary arts.
Making the switch from entertainment law to studying the art of food, Hysaw strives to bring people together one recipe at a time. She now shares her expertise and keen eye for detail through culinary delights. As a professional food stylist, she works on many of America’s favorite cooking and baking shows, making sure things run smoothly and look beautiful on camera.
She has also worked with print and commercial partners, styling for shows such as Best Baker in America and Baketopia as well as hosting courses on the Food Network Kitchen app where she shows viewers how they too can successfully make a beautiful and delicious dish, and she does it all with impeccable style. As an influencer with social media capital, she shares food, travel and lifestyle images and work with brands to market their products and services to her 50,000-strong Instagram audience.
Heavily influenced by her upbringing as well as her African American and Korean heritage, Hysaw highlights the vast similarities between the cultures and doesn’t shy away from showcasing the cultural and historical significance of both.
“There are many similarities between Black American and Korean culture and history,” she says. “Some of them are the practice of ancestral worship prior to Christianity, the embrace and deep-set devotion to Christianity post-colonization.”
There’s also the love for dance and music—just about every Korean talk or game show will have a dancing segment just because—the importance of respecting elders, and the appreciation/preference for gold, to name a few,” she continues.
“Under Japanese rule between 1910 and 1945, Koreans have faced similar oppression as Black Americans. Koreans were seen as lazy and ‘less than’, they were forced from their homes unto unfamiliar land, lived in ghettoes, were unable to work respectable jobs or receive a proper education, were not allowed to marry Japanese, were beaten, experimented on, raped and killed. The debris of Japanese rule still lingers, though subtly,” she says. “A great book to learn more from is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It was on former president Barack Obama’s reading list,” she advises.
Hysaw is also conscious of those who have gone before her, as evidenced by her roster of dream dinner party guests, where she lists renowned chefs, culinary historians and educators who have, in one way or another, made an impact in the food industry. It is a similar aspiration that drives Hysaw to share her knowledge, experience, and favorite recipes with her community.
In this episode of ‘My Folklore’, we step into the kitchen with Megan Hysaw to talk about the power of food, the significance of cultural heritage and her dream dinner party guests, while she cooks up some Gochujang BBQ ribs. Watch the video below and on YouTube and read our interview below.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I would describe myself as dynamic, as I aim to constantly progress and maintain a positive attitude and mindset. There is so much more to me than what meets the eye.
What attracted you to the culinary world? Did you always know you wanted to work in the food industry?
Food has always been the forefront of my life: family gatherings, vacations, school lunches and after school snacks and activities.
I was a bit oblivious to the professional side of food; therefore, it did not click for me until college. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but switched before enrolling into law school.
You’re African American and Korean, and each culture has its own distinct cuisine, which must influence your cooking. In what way are these influences present in your work?
Although they are distinct, there are far more similarities than one would imagine. Food represents community within both cultures and the types of foods enjoyed by both are strikingly alike. For example, sweet potatoes in desserts or as standalone items, a love for spicy and deep flavors, a preference for seafood, the comfort of fried chicken, the tradition of chitlins, stews and rice, BBQing as a means to gather, and so on.
Specific foods that mimic each other are gopchang [cattle or pig intestines] and chitlins, goguma mattang [caramelized sweet potatoes] and candied sweet potatoes, seafood boils, jook and grits, Korean fried chicken and Southern fried chicken. There are also Korean dishes that look similar to various African and Caribbean dishes, such as Jamaican oxtail and Korean oxtail, Ghanaian seafood pepper soup and Jjampong [a spicy seafood noodle soup] or Maeuntang [a spicy fish stew].
They all influence in my work as I develop recipes with the aim of bringing people together to share and indulge, and making sure that each meal is deeply flavored.
Food is clearly a way for you to connect with your heritage as a woman who is both African American and Korean. What other ways do you incorporate your culture into your life, or work?
I search for brands, restaurants and products owned by Black or Korean entrepreneurs and support them as often as I can. My ancestors are always in the forefront of my mind. I try my best to make them proud every day, as they have sacrificed and endured so much for me to be in the position I’m in today.
What is your creative process for developing new recipes?
I like to dine out and try different chefs’ takes on dishes, travel, and immerse myself in nature as inspiration. Apart from that, the process is ultimately methodical.
What ingredients can you not cook without? Do you have a top five?
Garlic has great flavor and wonderful nutritional benefits. Onion. Avocado oil because it has a high smoke point and is neutral in flavor. Pink Himalayan salt for trace minerals, which is lacking in the average American diet. And fresh herbs to brighten just about any dish.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
I like to say that every meal is the best I’ve ever had. I am so grateful to have multiple nourishing meals a day and haven’t had to worry as to when or where my next meal is coming from.
I enjoy the story and labor of love behind every meal, even it’s something simple. I have always found it so special when others cook for me, even as a young child, I loved going to friends’ houses to see what they had for snacks and what their parents would choose to feed us.
If I had to really narrow it down, though, the meal that comes to mind is the tasting menu at Central in Lima, Peru. It was once the number one restaurant in the world (it’s now ranked at number six). Each dish represents one of Peru’s 12 ecosystems. I tried so many different roots, fruits and vegetables that I had never even heard of, so that was such a fun experience.
How would you describe your personal style?
I would say feminine, timeless, and classic with a modern twist. I aim to give off “humbly rich auntie vibes.”
Tell us a bit about the recipe you’re making today. Why did you choose the Gochujang BBQ ribs?
I chose Gochujang BBQ ribs because it is loved by family and friends and is a fun representation of both of my heritages. Gochujang is a spicy and somewhat sweet paste made from glutenous rice, fermented soybeans, Korean chilis and salt.
You live in Los Angeles but spend a lot of time in New York. What are the differences between the food scenes in LA and NY?
In my opinion and experience, NY is more about heartier foods, most likely due to the weather and the warm comfort it provides. There are also traditional foods from cultural groups that aren’t as prevalent in LA such as Caribbean, African and Italian cuisine. Whereas LA is more about fresh and light and is more focused on Asian and Mexican influences.
Enjoying good food is not only about how the dish tastes. There’s the setting, ambience, and company to consider. So, who are your dream dinner party guests?
If I could host a dinner party with guests who are both alive and have passed, the living guests would consist of my parents, my best friends, Jessica B. Harris, a culinary historian and food educator; David Chang, a Korean American restaurateur and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
The guests who are no longer with us would be my maternal grandmother who passed when I was in fifth grade; Lena Richard, the first Black woman to host a television cooking show; Edna Lewis, a renowned chef and food educator who refined the American view on Southern cooking and championed farm-to-table; Malinda Russell, a free Black woman from Tennessee who published the first known cookbook by a Black woman in the US and Anthony Bourdain.
It would be an honor to dine with those who I admire, who inspire me, and have paved the way for me to have the career and dreams that I do. It is my hope that I am doing each of these individuals proud and that I am able to open doors for others to come long after me, as well.
Finally, what is the next thing we can expect from you? What are you working on?
I am working on an online home and garden shop featuring curated products owned or designed by both up-and-coming and celebrated women and people of color, as well as featuring in-house products such as candles, aprons, and so much more, so stay tuned!
Gochujang BBQ ribs by Megan Hysaw
3 slabs of St Louis-style pork ribs, membrane removed
2 18oz bottles plain BBQ sauce, of choice
12oz Gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste)
1 can of beer, of choice
⅓ cup soy sauce
1 head of garlic, cut in half
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1-inch knobs of ginger
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, plus more of garnish
Black pepper, to taste
Section ribs in 3 parts and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add beer, peppercorns, head of garlic, knobs of ginger, soy sauce, and ribs to the pot of boiling water and let boil until tender. Drain liquid then break down the ribs into individual pieces, set aside. In a large bowl, mix BBQ Sauce, Gochujang, minced garlic, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper and sesame seeds until well combined. Coat and marinade ribs for at least 1 hour. I like to marinade mine overnight. Broil ribs for about 8-10 minutes or until sauce is caramelized. Enjoy!
Creative producer: Raven Irabor @ravencherisse
Videographer: Jelani Cleghorne clfrna.com
Camera assistant: Brianna Devons @shotby.briannadevons
Photographer: Raul Romo @raulromo
Production assistant: Vanessa Serrano @noir.matic
Talent: Megan Hysaw @meganhysaw
Words: Tasha Nicole Smith @tashnicolesmith