In 2018, Jing Gao opened a holiday gift guide in an online newsletter from the organic spice purveyor Diaspora Co. to find a happy surprise. The soon-to-be-launched first product from her new company — the Sichuan chile oil brand Fly by Jing — was among the featured picks from Diaspora’s founder, Sana Javeri Kadri. After Gao got in touch with Kadri over Instagram, the two women quickly went from strangers to confidantes, turning to one another for support and advice as their businesses grew. In the years since, they’ve befriended other female entrepreneurs and, says Gao, leaning on this “founder community is the only way we’ve been able to survive and thrive.” Last spring, they celebrated that mutually actualized success by co-hosting a dinner party for their ever-expanding network. It went so well that they’ve decided to make it a regular event. The most recent gathering took place on a cool April evening at Gao’s 1950s Modernist house in Los Angeles’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood. “It’s a little freestyle,” said Gao of the party that morning, admitting that she hadn’t yet finalized the Indian Chinese menu. “I just went to the market to see what’s fresh and good, so there might be some surprises.”
The lack of advance planning was understandable considering the hosts’ perpetually packed schedules. Gao, 35, had returned the previous day from a monthlong trip to her birthplace, Chengdu, China, where she was visiting manufacturers. Kadri, 29, who lives in Oakland, was leaving the next day for her hometown, Mumbai, where Diaspora Co. is based. Both women have seen their businesses expand exponentially over the past few years. When Kadri launched Diaspora in 2017, she sold just one spice: turmeric. Now, her line offers 30 of them, all sourced from India and Sri Lanka. “I wanted to build a better spice trade in the most wildly idealistic way,” she said. “I wanted to work with South Asia’s best regenerative farms, and I wanted to work in a queer, multicultural environment that welcomed all my identities.”
Gao was living in Shanghai, where she ran an underground supper club, also called Fly by Jing, when a visit to an American food industry trade show in 2018 inspired her to launch her line. “I saw such a dire lack of Asian food products in the U.S. that I decided to move to Los Angeles to start the new iteration of Fly by Jing as a condiment brand,” said Gao, who now offers over a dozen sauces and spices. Her first cookbook, “The Book of Sichuan Chili Crisp: Spicy Recipes and Stories From Fly by Jing’s Kitchen,” debuts on Sept. 26, and Suá, her fast-casual Sichuan restaurant, will open in Los Angeles’s Larchmont Village neighborhood in July.
Before all of that, though, the women had some cooking to do, with help from chef Akilah York, whom Gao had hired to provide culinary back up. Among the 16 guests expected were Ellen Bennett of the apron and kitchen goods company Hedley & Bennett; Erica Chidi, a co-founder of the digital women’s health education platform Loom; Bricia Lopez, the cookbook author and a co-owner of the Koreatown Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza; Rosa Park, the founder of Cereal magazine and owner of Francis Gallery in Los Angeles and Bath, England; and the cookbook author Sonoko Sakai. The goal was to kick back while shoring one another up. “Doing these kinds of dinners is as much a celebration as it is commiseration,” said Kadri, who points out that running a start-up can be not just stressful but isolating. “We’re going around the table being like, ‘I see you. You are not alone.’”
Friends started arriving at 6 p.m., helping themselves to glasses of Martha Stoumen Nero d’Avola and cans of Ghia, the nonalcoholic aperitif brand founded by Melanie Masarin, a guest at the party. Both were set out on the table in Gao’s dining room, where shelves of cookbooks share space with her collection of donabes (Japanese clay cooking pots) from the West Hollywood shop Toiro. As the crowd grew, they made their way to the Japanese Zen-style garden out back, which was designed by Koichi Kawana — the postwar Japanese American landscape architect known for creating the bonsai garden at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — and features a rock garden, a pool and a plethora of trees, including Japanese maple, ginkgo and a Chinese fringe that was completely shrouded in white flowers. Dinner was served under a weeping bottlebrush tree on tables covered with printed linens from Block Shop Textiles — a gift from the label’s co-founder Hopie Stockman Hill, a friend of the hosts who wasn’t able to attend the dinner. The guest Yasmine Khatib of the Los Angeles flower studio Yasmine Floral Design provided a trio of pastel arrangements: white vases filled with foxgloves, pincushions, peonies, poppies and alliums. And Shelley Kleyn Armistead, another guest and the chief executive of the Gjelina hospitality group, supplied the speckled white dinner plates from Gjelina’s kitchenware brand, Gjusta Goods.
At the beginning of the meal, the two hosts asked the women to introduce themselves, which evolved into each guest relating how Gao and Kadri had come into their lives. “I love to go around life and collect the good eggs, and you two are good eggs,” Bennett said to them. “We’re powerful because of the force of the community around us.”
Gao and Kadri broke the family-style meal into three courses. First came a salad of chicken, vermicelli and celtuce, a Chinese vegetable that tastes like a cross between celery and lettuce, which was topped with Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp Vinaigrette; scallop crudo with yuzu kosho and Fly by Jing’s Tribute Pepper Oil; and battered and fried maitake mushrooms coated with Diaspora Co.’s turmeric and Fly by Jing’s Mala Spice Mix and garnished with edible flowers.
The second course included Kadri’s rendition of chile paneer, adapted from a recipe by her friend Karan Gokani of Hoppers restaurant in London. Cubes of the mild Indian cheese were fried and tossed in a sauce spiced with cinnamon, curry leaves and chiles. The dish is an Indian Chinese classic, as are the Hakka noodles — egg pasta tossed in a wok with ginger, garlic and white pepper — which were served alongside. For dessert, Kadri baked her adaptation of the pastry chef and cookbook author Natasha Pickowicz’s dappled date cake, adding coconut milk and Diaspora Co.’s chai masala to the mix. And then, with one host jet-lagged and another preparing for a long flight the next day, the festivities wrapped up around 9:30, each guest taking with them a trio of Fly by Jing sauces and, no doubt, some business advice. Here, Gao and Kadri share their tips for hosting a laid-back yet festive dinner.
Set Up Early
“In Chinese cooking, mise en place is very important,” said Gao, who extends that philosophy beyond the kitchen. She likes to set the table as early as possible, not only to get it out of the way but also to make the house feel special.
To keep guests from hovering in the kitchen while she puts the finishing touches on the meal, Kadri makes sure to have appetizers at the ready in another area of the house. In this case, she laid out plates of crudités paired with chaat masala ranch — a recipe she learned from the chef Sohla El-Waylly on TikTok — in the garden.
Get the Light Right
To create a warm, golden glow in the garden, Kadri and Gao placed both candlelit glass lanterns and cordless minilamps on and around the tables. Kadri recommends candles from the North Carolina-based pottery and housewares brand East Fork.
Match Up the Music
Gao and Kadri made a Spotify playlist featuring Indian and Chinese pop songs to underscore the night’s theme. Two of their favorite artists: Harrdy Sandhu and Isabelle Huang. Even the music’s volume played a role in setting the mood: It was turned up during the drinks hour and down during the dinner.