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Former Seattle Cook, Now Taiwan-Based, Ships Homemade Masks to Local Chefs

Eater logo Eater 4/28/2020 Gabe Guarente
a woman holding a cat: Atina Tan models one of her cloth masks. © Courtesy of Atina Tan Atina Tan models one of her cloth masks.

With masks to protect against COVID-19 difficult to come by, one local expat hopes to be a one-woman supply to the Seattle restaurant industry. Atina Tan, a former line cook now living in Taiwan, is shipping homemade cloth masks for chefs and their staffs pivoting to takeout and delivery, so they can have adequate protection. So far, recipients include Tamara Murphy (Terra Plata), Mutsuko Soma (Kamonegi), Garrett Doherty (Lionhead), and Yenvy Pham (Pho Bac), who are distributing them to workers.

Tan — who worked as a cook in Seattle under Murphy, Doherty, and others before moving to Taipei in 2017 — first conceived of the idea in early March, after months of dealing with the pandemic in Taiwan. As COVID-19 hit the U.S. in full force, Tan followed American news outlets and noticed that there was a stigma associated with face masks. “The only people they showed wearing face masks were Asian and they never spoke to or interviewed them,” she says. “The messaging was subtle, but I felt it vilified and dehumanized Asians.”

Tan then began sending store bought masks back to friends and family in the states to make sure they had enough protection. She also wanted to de-stigmatize mask-wearing, so she posted pics of those wearing the coverings — from all backgrounds and ethnicities — on social media.

After realizing an even greater need for masks in Seattle, Tan purchased 350 and sent them to her former boss, Murphy, for distribution. She soon bought a sewing machine to create fitted and contoured versions, all with a pocket to insert a filter for extra protection. Tan says it takes about a half an hour to finish each mask, and makes them in batches of 30-50. She has made 167 on her own, with 50 more prepped and ready.

“I wanted to find a way to help an industry that is hurting so much right now,” Tan says.

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