‘Subtle Asian Baking’ founder Kat Lieu publishes best-selling cookbook

After being told ‘Asian culture doesn’t sell,’ this Renton resident built a whole community.

For many, baking is a craft about bringing people together, sharing family stories, and trying something delicious — whether it is your grandma’s favorite recipe, or a new pastry you have never tried before.

For Renton resident Kat Lieu, baking is about all of these things. She is giving a platform to a culture and a community whose diverse set of baking recipes and techniques have never been given a chance to shine.

“Subtle Asian Baking” began as a Facebook group that Lieu started. It was intended to be an online space for baking enthusiasts to share their recipes for different Asian baked goods — be it a recipe passed down from a family member, a recipe they recently learned, or a new innovation on a classic treat.

Lieu described Asian baking as “diverse” with recipes from all across the Asian diaspora, with a variety of regional ingredients like ube, pandan, mochi, black sesame, and other flavors familiar to Asian palates.

She said the variety of textures that exist are notable, as an oven is not the only instrument used to bake, with techniques such as steaming or microwaving often used. She said texture is important with baked treats often having airiness from whipped egg or other ingredients, and al dente chewiness from ingredients like glutinous rice flour.

She also said treats sometimes are savory, as opposed to sweet.

She founded the Facebook group in 2020, and it quickly gained 5,000 members in the first week. It now has over 150,000 members. She has since created an Instagram page under the same moniker that currently has over 140,000 followers.

Around the same time, Lieu, a physical therapist for over 10 years, decided to make a career pivot and publish a book full of recipes shared and inspired by the online “Subtle Asian Baking” community.

As a content creator, Lieu had previously been 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. The book made Publishers Weekly’s bestsellers list for the week of August 8.

Since its release, Lieu has done several book signings in the Seattle area as well as New York City. During her New York event, she said she was greeted by folks who had flown from out of state just to meet her, many of them members of the “Subtle Asian Baking” online community.

For Lieu, the book has been a way of “reclaiming the narrative” of Asian culinary culture and baking. She maintains that her book is one of the few out about Asian baking that is actually authored by an Asian-American woman.

She said as a person of Asian descent growing up in America, it is easy to feel as an outsider or an “other.” She said she did not always see people that looked like her on television and often it was non-Asians represented in media or creative fields, even when it came to “experts” on Asian culture and cuisine.

“We want to be seen as experts too,” Lieu said. “Representation does matter.”

She said that her goal for the “Subtle Asian Baking” community is not to gatekeep — rather, it is about adding to the conversation. Lieu said that food is language of love, one that brings people from different cultures together as there are always stories to be shared behind the food and the culture.