The Inspiration Behind Taste Buds in Harmony

The second book in our series, Taste Buds in Harmony (coming June 2022), is inspired by Chef Kyo Pang of Kopitiam in NYC. This vibrant, colorful story explores the idea of harmony, and how different ingredients can come together to create something magical and delicious if you take the time to understand and respect each one. Below is a special look into the inspiration that fueled this fun-filled picture book. I’d recommend reading while snacking on an array of kuih. 

I remember Chef Kyo Pang being surprised that I wanted to interview her for our Taste Bud Profiles. She was gracious and modest, and the time we spent on the phone chatting about her life, her food, and Baba Nyonya philosophy was inspiring, joyful, and humbling for me all at once.  

I first heard about Kyo while reading about the rise in anti-Asian sentiment and specifically its effect on Asian restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic. And yet, despite facing overwhelmingly difficult and ever-changing circumstances, Kyo was still spending this time with me, never complaining but instead sharing her philosophy on zen, love, and harmony that remained firm despite everything in the world seemingly working against those ideals. 

“Baba Nyonya people believe in creating a harmonious way with each other, and that is directly reflected in our food as well. Each ingredient has its own characteristic and character, and each character is unique—but they work perfectly with one another if you understand them well.”

I was so grateful to Kyo for articulating this idea to me through the metaphor of food, particularly at such a difficult time. It’s a simple idea, and yet clearly needs to be said repeatedly, and loudly, and in as many ways as possible—the world needs more respect for strengths and differences of others, and more interest in finding communal harmony. I could have told ten different stories based on our time together, but this simple idea of harmony seemed the most immediately relevant, and the most important. I was struck by how actionable it was—how through the metaphor of bringing disparate flavors and ingredients together, you could create something greater than the sum of its parts—and how applicable that message could be in any part of one’s life. And I’d be crazy if I didn’t mention how appealing the idea of people getting to taste Kyo’s food was to me. Don’t be surprised if your kid is inspired to taste udang curry nanas immediately upon finishing this book! 

As beautiful and important as this message is for all of us, there’s so much in this story that is extra exciting for our tiny Taste Buds! Jo has brought Kyo’s story to life with such vibrant, energetic colors and patterns, and Al Dente gets into some of his silliest hijinks yet. Kal and her pals know they can find the solution to their problems, and they do it by harnessing their own imaginations and experiences. The kids are in charge, and the payoff is, well, poppin’. 

As specific to Kyo’s life as this story is, the theme is relevant to every single person on the planet. Food has the power to transcend the boundaries that we’ve created. Harmony is universal, even when specific ingredients are not. I’m so excited to share this story with you, and I’m forever honored and grateful that Kyo shared it with me. 

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Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is the co-founder and Chief Imaginator at Kalamata’s Kitchen. As a former sommelier, she’s also very proud of her unofficial title as  “Professional-Try-Things-Twicer”, and is on a mission to keep minds open and forks ready everywhere.

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