Twice Lefty-nominated Jennifer J. Chow is coming out with the first book Death by Bubble Tea (July 5, 2022) in the new L.A. Night Market series. This series focuses on Yale Yee who grew up in the Los Angeles area at her parents’ restaurant. She ends up playing host to her wealthier cousin, Celine, when she comes to L.A. at a moment’s notice from Hong Kong. Yale’s dad thinks it's a great opportunity for the cousins to get to know each other by running the restaurant’s bubble tea stand at a new night market, which is a street market held in the evening. But when one of their customers ends up dead, possibly from the bubble tea they had served her, Yale and Celine now must team up to clear their names.
Murder & Mayhem had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Chow about her new book and series.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Murder & Mayhem: Where did you get the idea for the book?
I definitely wanted to do a culinary cozy, because I love food. I wanted to do a new take on it. I really wanted two cousins with opposite personalities to work together serving food as well as trying to figure out the murder. Part of it came to me because I've gone to a lot of night markets in Asia, the U.S., and Canada as well. I also thought a nighttime festival would be a great place to hide clues and have suspects and have that twist that I haven't seen before in other books. And bubble tea. That's one of the snacks served because I like bubble tea. It's fascinating to just put in more food and snacks that I don't necessarily see in cozy mysteries.
Why is it important to tell the story?
I wanted to have the two protagonists come from different perspectives. So I have two cousins from the same family, but one is American in the US; the other is from Hong Kong. They come from different social strata too. Yale’s family had to build the family restaurant from the ground up whereas Celine and her parents are more moneyed, and Celine gets everything kind of handed to her.
I wanted to explore those different things. What is Asian identity? And how does it differ, if you're in America versus someplace else, and then how do the different backgrounds impact that? I think it's hopefully reflected in the different food vendors too from different backgrounds, and cultures. I wanted to bring up this diverse and different experience but also in a nice planned fictional community in the L.A. area. So you have the small cozy elements with a broader perspective.
Death by Bubble Tea
Yale and Celine have very different views on technology. Yale shuns it but Celine loves it. Can you talk about that?
I think I wanted to play around with that too, because it's obviously so modern to have social media and all that so I definitely thought that technology would play a role. With the cousins, I wanted to have the contrast between them, personality-wise, but also because how connected are they to technology? What are their thoughts on it?
I think I wanted to explore different views. Part of it is Yale has a love for things that are tangible and things that have history. And she also has a personal history with technology. I just felt it was interesting to explore that dynamic and I think it pushes that opposite personality between the cousins a little bit more.
Why do you think food cozies are so popular?
I think we all have to eat. Food is a really nice connector; it’s a common ground for people to focus on food. There are so many positive associations, right? We share meals; we break bread with friends or families. We get to know new people through meals, drinks, snacks, or coffee.
For me personally and my background, my family, my culture, it's a gift of love. It’s a way to physically bring love to family members, right? For instance: “Oh, I remember your favorite meal and I'm gonna make it for you.”
How was the challenge to come up with recipes at the end of the book?
I like the idea and I appreciate people who [make recipes for their books]. I'll put in a couple of recipes. I know people who put in 20 recipes in the back. That won't be me. It's hard because you have to tinker with it. You find a base recipe and then you kind of figure out how to alter it and make it your own. Which recipe should I include? Which ones do I feel like it's easily explained?
I actually like cooking. I grew up in a family where we didn't measure our ingredients. It’s often a pinch of this, a dash of that. When we make rice, you put it in the pot, but then you don't measure the water with a cup. You use your hands to figure out what the depth is. So I think that part is really difficult to really figure out like, what's the specific amount for the recipe?
How is it different from your Sassy Cat series?
It’s like going into different worlds really. The Sassy Cat series is a lot of fun. You’ve got the cat perspective, and you've got the human perspective. It's a lot quirkier and maybe punier? The Night Market world is a little more grounded in real life. Things are maybe not as rosy because Yale's dealing with insecurities.
I guess the other thing is that with the food cozy, we had a family restaurant whereas I did not own a grooming salon.
What’s your favorite bubble tea flavor?
I do like the grapefruit green tea that’s in the Bubble Tea book. I am partial to green tea in general. I do tend to go for very tea-tasting bubble tea, so it will be some bitter tea but then paired with something else. I'll go a little bit different and do a fruity version but with fresh fruits, like mango or strawberry or something like that.
We can’t wait for Jennifer J. Chow’s Death by Bubble Tea to come out!