Cooking is Care for Olivia Cheng

I’m going through a phase where cooking isn’t for myself but to share with others.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Olivia Cheng is the founder and designer behind the womenswear brand Dauphinette. We chatted with her about how food is her ritual and vessel for connection while making her “magical miso mushroom mac and cheese” in The Dutchess in her Brooklyn kitchen.

As a teenager, cooking was my way of rebelling. I wanted to assert my independence and make different cuisines and explore food that was different than what we cooked at home. It was really representative of that first-gen immigrant kid mentality. I made a lot of Western food. I liked to bake cookies, and after school I would make myself egg sandwiches. Then my mom would make wood-ear-mushroom fungus soup for dinner, so it was like my personal way of carving my own space in the day and my own attempt at deciphering an identity.

As a teenager, cooking was my way of rebelling. 

 

Now, as someone who has some trouble relaxing, it’s an activity that occupies my hands and my mind. When I first started my business I did everything by myself, and it was hard to know when to stop or pause. There’s always more to be done, but stopping to cook was often the only time I would stop working during the day. I was eating a lot of sweet potatoes, and I remember dicing those up and that was kind of my way of finding a break.

There’s always more to be done, but stopping to cook was often the only time I would stop working during the day.

 

I started my womenswear company, Dauphinette, when I was in college — I was 19. I was vintage shopping while visiting Paris, and I saw they had such an immaculate collection of coats and furs and shearlings, but they weren't getting a lot of love. I went home with the idea to upcycle vintage outerwear. I waited a year to do it and started with $2,000. I thrifted this 1980s floor-length ruched mink coat from Neiman Marcus. It was in pristine condition, and I got it for $50 in Ohio and I resold it.

Even then, I always knew I wanted a full collection of accessories, bags, and clothes, but I didn’t know how to make ready-to-wear. So while I was doing this and meeting people, I was also going to the Garment District, visiting factories to just learn, and then I started doing ready-to-wear collections. I met this artisan who had such cool work with resins, and I asked her if she had ever thought of doing things with flowers or botanicals. We just started making all kinds of fun things together, and Dauphinette continued to grow from there.

We are coming out with fall/winter ‘22 in mid-February, and this is the first time we are working with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. I’m used to doing everything myself, so it’s my first time bringing in a producer and PR. It’s all very exciting.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of food as a form of hospitality towards friends, or, if I go out to eat, being thoughtful about the person behind the dish, their culture, and how that affects what we are eating, why it was made, and where the person behind the dish is coming from. I’m going through a phase where cooking isn’t for myself but to share with others.

I’m going through a phase where cooking isn’t for myself but to share with others.

 

When I was new to New York, I had friends here but not friends who felt like family. I’m a vegetarian and remember when I went to a friend’s house I wasn’t expecting any food because we hadn’t talked about that. But I got there and she was like, “Oh, I’m cooking, and I already set aside some for you before I added in the lamb.” Another time, she had a summer barbecue and I was the only vegetarian there, but she had jackfruit brining in barbecue sauce. It made me feel so loved.

There’s a care behind it that can’t be accomplished through words or gifts.

 

Now when I’m cooking it’s usually for friends, and I’m thinking about who is coming over, what do they like or not like, and what can I create that has something for everyone? Cooking is a way to share yourself and your love with others. There’s a care behind it that can’t be accomplished through words or gifts. It’s offering someone labor and thoughtfulness, offering yourself and your care to them in a comforting and explicit way.There’s a care behind cooking that can’t be accomplished through words or gifts.

For today, I wanted to make something representative of my culture and really hearty and shareable. I’m calling this “the magical miso mushroom mac and cheese.” I picked up some maitakes and shiitakes and cooked them in five-spice seasoning, soy sauce, and black vinegar, and smoked them a little bit. Then I made this indulgent hearty miso mac and cheese. I loosely followed a recipe for the sauce to be sure it wouldn’t come out too stringy, but for the rest I kind of winged it. I used buckwheat flour, which made my pasta kinda gray, but it was delicious.

I loosely followed a recipe for the sauce to be sure it wouldn’t come out too stringy, but for the rest I kind of winged it.

 

I used my Dutchess in Blueberry and the Rosie Assoulin dish towels — Rosie Assoulin was my first internship in New York, so I was so excited to see that there was a GJ x Rosie dish towel. I used my Blueberry Dutchess for my mac and cheese, and I love how it’s such a great sharing size and it’s nonstick. The color is so vibrant, and as someone who works a lot with colors, it makes me so happy to see it.

When I first started Dauphinette, I wanted it to be something that could parlay into food, but the more I learn about the food industry, there are so many logistical elements that go into it, like any pursuit. For now, I like having food be my relaxing ritual, but I’m not ruling that idea out just yet.

"I love how my Blueberry Dutchess is such a great sharing size and it’s nonstick."

Photos by Michael Grant.

Olivia's Go-To Designs

The Dutchess
6.75-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$160
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The Whole Grain Family
3-Piece Wooden Utensil Set
$75
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Party Towel
A Set of Two Limited-Edition Tea Towels
$40
Shop Now