This month, we caught up with 1828 Project Leader, Lauren Li Primer, who is the editor and food photographer of an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Cookbook. In the cookbook, she emphasizes how food culture unites us and extends everyone a seat at the table. Get to know Lauren and try out some of the recipes featuring cuisine from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and so much more!
During your 9-5, you are a Biological Engineer for pharmaceuticals. How do you balance STEM with your joy of capturing and sharing the beauty of culture through public speaking, creativity, and cuisine? Studying on engineering exchange in Denmark taught me a beautiful little concept of ‘hygge.’ Similar to ‘zen,’ it is the feeling of warmth and comfort found in togetherness. Outside of lab-to-commercial scale optimization work, I seek my own version of ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hygge-ness’ through multicultural experiences and kinships. Mirroring rich memories from abroad, these cultivate an ambience of international exchange here in Circle City.
Balance is found in those art-meets-STEM moments:
- Paying tribute to my Chinese-adopted heritage as I emcee our corporate Lunar New Year Gala in a
traditional qipao dress exclaiming “新年快乐 xīn nián kuài lè.”
- Fluently conversing in Spanish with newfound friends from Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico
over brunch at Garden Table – and learning of a friend’s Amazon Rainforest camping memories,
evoked by Garfield Park Conservatory’s cacao, coffee, and chicle trees.
- Swapping family recipes at ‘Familial Food Friday’ luncheons as I lead a tutorial of my Nana’s Italian
Cheesecake Recipe or bring in homemade stir fry – all while sharing my adoption story because
others were thoughtful to ask, listen, and appreciate.
I think life at its core is about the people you surround yourself with, what you learn from each other,
how and where you spend your time, what you choose to love, and how you find your version of
‘hygge.’ That both feeds into and simultaneously reflects your energy. This feedback loop of good
energy helps cater what naturally gravitates toward you in return.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! You are a part of the Asian American Alliance, Inc. of
Indianapolis and your corporate Asian Pacific employee resource group. Tell us about your
involvement. As an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Cookbook Editor and Food/Landscape Photographer, it was exciting to emphasize how food culture unites us and extends everyone a seat at the table. Furthering the narrative in 2021 was thought-provoking as a Lunar New Year Script Writer and Emcee showcasing customs and company-wide achievements of Asian Pacific American inventors of medicine. It has been fun to push the envelope in 2022 as Lunar New Year Art/Screenplay Director, leading a team to curate video reels of new year traditions at home and in Chinatowns across the U.S.
How can Indy residents grow civically-engaged and get plugged into the city? To get involved, think global, act local. Of course, it is a dream to have as many cultures and backgrounds represented in Indy and every city – such that everyone sees others reflected in themselves, and themselves reflected in others. That, to me, is community. At this moment, what we can each do is focus on the lanes we seek to race in by starting small. Maybe you gather a crowd of fans as spectators, rooting you on. The next leap is to push further. Bring them out of the stands, onto the speedway alongside you. That is where the magic happens. You draw people into your vision while helping clarify their own intents. The moment you motivate one another to race on the same team is when you have catalyzed a tour-de-force of intent and action – together.
In 2021, you published an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Cookbook with 40 recipes and family stories from 10 different countries. Where has the art space taken you now? It was a launching point into blank-space creativity – begging the question: what has not yet been trailblazed? For Lunar New Year 2022, it was an honor to pilot and lead an Art/Screenplay Direction team that filmed, edited, story boarded, and narrated video reels highlighting Year of the Tiger celebrations. The audience was immersed into traditional decorating of the home, grocery shopping at local Asian markets, cooking festivities of hot pot and dumpling-making, a formal Reunion Dinner with colleagues donning their finest silk outfits, and Chinatown tours from Chicago and Philly to LA and NYC.
We know that in every country, there is a profound interplay between culture and cuisine. The Cookbook allows readers to embark on a journey through Asia and the Pacific Islands to create sustainable, explorative cooking experiences. How have you seen the Cookbook inspire positive change? The cookbook piqued widespread interest in the communities featured: China, India, Indonesia, Japan/Hawaii, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. I have found that intrigue ignites a chain reaction of discussions on cultural awareness and dimensions of diversity, promoting first-hand perspectives from those willing to speak up and share. Open dialogue instills heightened enthusiasm to trust and collaborate. Greater camaraderie is thus achieved as value is placed on both the destination and the journey with others as we strive to shape a better world.
Many of the recipes featured in this Cookbook have been passed down from generation to generation.
This reinforces Asian Pacific American values of respect and gentle care for their elders. Do you
remember the first meal you cooked with your family? Easter Lamb Cake – baked in a special lamb-shaped mold based on my Polish Grandma’s go-to pound cake and whipped cream frosting recipes out of the 1952 Slovak-American Cookbook.
This might be a tough one, but we have to ask! What’s your favorite recipe featured in the Cookbook?
Chinese Spicy Sesame Peanut Noodles – addictive sauce and perfect to add into your weeknight
You have studied and volunteered abroad in Ecuador, France, Denmark and China, what or who
sparked your interest in travel and international affairs? The adventurous world-centric lifestyle fostered by my parents and our diverse ‘mini-United Nations’ family with nearly 100 first and second cousins. Whether you are Polish, Italian, Japanese/Hawaiian, Mexican, or adopted from China, Russia, Korea, or the U.S., everyone is celebrated. Family traditions like singing Polish ‘Stolat’ for birthdays or eating ‘zeppole’ for Italian St. Joseph’s Day will be carried on for generations to come.
We are talking about food, so we’d be remiss to not ask – top 3 favorite restaurants in the city?
- Shapiro’s Deli – Matzo Ball Soup & Potato Pancakes
- Bodhi Thai Bistro – the widest, hand-made Pad See Ew noodles you’ve ever had
- Livery – try this new-age Latin American during Devour Indy week
What is your advice for how city residents can learn more about multiculturalism in Indy? Be curious and conversational at events put on by employee resource groups or non-profits such as: Asian American Alliance, Inc.; Indianapolis Chinese Community Center, Inc. (ICCCI); America China Society of Indiana (ASCI); Prospanica Indianapolis; Italian Heritage Society of Indiana; Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.; and Indy’s Immigrant Welcome Center.
- One word to describe Indy? Effervescent
- Hobby that you have that no one really knows about? I collect smashed pennies, seashells & sea glass to make art on vinyl records & mosaic tiles.
- Go-to Indy spot? The AMP Food Hall @ 16-Tech for Farmers’ Markets & cultural events!
**This blog Q&A and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Cookbook recipes being shared were personally submitted by Lauren Primer, with content reflecting her personal views.
Meet Lauren Li Primer:
An IndyHub 1828 Leadership Project leader, Chinese-American adoptee, and quadrilingual enthusiast of Mandarin, Spanish, French, and English, whose mantra is ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Danish ‘hygge-ness.’
A world traveler as a Purdue Stamps Leadership Scholar on full scholarship who studied abroad 4 times in 4 countries using these 4 languages.
A Biological Engineer grateful for her optimization role in improving quality-of-life for individuals like her Dad so they may lead a lifestyle that grows easier day by day.
A daughter raised to remember her roots by two Polish and Italian artists in Chicago through 14 years of Chinatown folk dance and Mandarin classes every Saturday – and frequent day trips to ethnic neighborhoods of Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Devon Avenue, and more.
A Downtown Indy foodie and runner, whose lemon olive oil and paint brush are from Florence, Italy; bird feeder is from Copenhagen, Denmark; street art and alpaca wool blankets are from Quito, Ecuador; and Dragon Well (龙井 Lóngjǐng) tea is from West Lake, China.
An engager who thrives on left-meets-right-brain creative opportunities to meld the engineer’s mindset with artistic angles, public speaking, and storytelling on an international community platform.