AVONDALE — Two local chefs who have built a following selling Asian-American food on Instagram and at pop-ups are bringing 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, set for 11 a.m.-5 p.m. May 22 at Metropolitan Brewing, 3057 N. Rockwell St.
Nearly three dozen Asian vendors selling everything from jewelry to ceramics are slated to participate in the event. A group of Asian chefs that includes Pham and Lemasters will cook 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.
“This is us sharing our joy and our food,” Lemasters said.
Pham, 35 and Lemasters, 33, said they weren’t sure where they 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’ve been on a journey of discovery and reconnection with culture the last couple of years. I’ve been dealing with a sense of imposter 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 the city.
Lemasters said she was struck by Pham and her Vietnamese noodle dishes, which were “very authentic, very rooted in culture,” which felt like the opposite of the tuna poke bowls and vegan dishes she prepares.
Pham “said, ‘There’s room for all of us,’ and I knew this is someone I really wanted to work with,” Lemasters said.
At first, the two planned to put on a Lunar New Year event together, but those plans didn’t materialize. Those conversations morphed into launching an Asian market with a “huge emphasis on mutual aid and joy,” Lemasters said.
Azn Pryde Market will showcase a range of Asian-American vendors from across the city, from established business owners to creatives who sell goods as a hobby, Lemasters said.
The vendors have agreed to donate 5-10 percent of their profits to organizations that support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. For a list of vendors, 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 range of Asian backgrounds, from south Indian to Filipino, and served on metal trays at a communal table, Pham said.
The meal will cost market-goers whatever they can afford, thanks to private donations and sponsorship from 46th ward Committeeman Sean Tenner and attorney Stephen Swedlow.
“We both have a firm belief that food should be accessible, that it’s a right, not a privilege,” Pham said.
Lemasters said the market has far surpassed their expectations, drawing so much interest from vendors they’ve had to turn some away.
From the pay-what-you-can meal and the vendors to the 2000s-themed marketing flyers, the event resonates with Chicagoans from across the Asian diaspora, Pham said.
“Coming into our own as adults, so much trauma has resurfaced for us,” she said. “We’ve really worked through it and learned new things about ourselves. This market provides that community. Let’s share in it together, not in the pain, but let’s bask in the joy.”
If the May 22 market is a success, the two chefs hope to put on an even larger event in the fall.
Pham said they want to build “a sense of community and allyship because of what’s been going on in the Asian-American community over the last few years.”
Hates crimes against Asian Americans have risen sharply around the United States in recent years.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: