Subtle Asian Baking founder Kat Lieu is releasing a best-selling cookbook
After being told, “Asian culture doesn’t sell,” this Renton resident built an entire community.
For many, baking is a craft about bringing people together, sharing family stories, and trying something delicious — whether it’s your grandma’s favorite recipe or a new pastry you’ve never tried before.
For Kat Lieu, who lives in Renton, baking is about all of those things. It gives a platform to a culture and a community whose diverse baking recipes and techniques have never had a chance to shine.
Subtle Asian Baking started as a Facebook group that Lieu founded. It should be an online space for baking enthusiasts to share their recipes for various Asian baked goods – whether it’s a recipe passed down from a family member, a recipe they recently learned, or a new innovation in a classic treat.
Lieu described Asian baking as “diverse” with recipes from across the Asian diaspora, featuring a variety of regional ingredients such as ube, pandan, mochi, black sesame and other flavors familiar to Asian palates.
She said the variety of textures present is remarkable, as an oven isn’t the only tool used in baking, with techniques such as steaming or microwaving often used. She said texture is important in baked treats, which often have airiness from beaten egg or other ingredients and al dente chewiness from ingredients like glutinous rice flour.
She also said that treats are sometimes savory, not sweet.
In 2020, she started the Facebook group, which quickly grew 5,000 members in its first week. It now has over 150,000 members. She has since created an Instagram page under the same name which currently has over 140,000 followers.
Around the same time, Lieu, a physical therapist for over 10 years, decided on a career as a pivot and released a book full of recipes shared and inspired by the online community Subtle Asian Baking.
While looking for publishing partners, she was told by an industry insider that “Asian culture doesn’t sell”.
The book Modern Asian Baking at Home was released in July and has already been well received by baking enthusiasts across the country. Lieu said the book had over 50,000 e-book pre-orders before it even came out. The book made the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for the week of August 8th.
Since its release, Lieu has done several book signings in the Seattle and New York City areas. During her New York event, she said she was greeted by people who flew in from overseas just to meet her, many of them members of the Subtle Asian Baking online community.
For Lieu, the book was a way to “take back the narrative” of Asian culinary culture and baking. She claims her book is one of the few on Asian baking actually written by an Asian-American woman.
She said as a person of Asian descent growing up in America, it’s easy to feel like an outsider or “other.” She said she hasn’t always seen people who look like her on TV, and that non-Asians are often in the media or in the creative field, even if they are “experts” on Asian culture and cuisine.
“We also want to be seen as experts,” said Lieu. “Representation is important.”
She said her goal for the Subtle Asian Baking community isn’t to guard the gate — it’s to contribute to the conversation. Lieu said food is a language of love, a language that brings people from different cultures together because there are always stories behind food and culture.