A little background on my journey. Growing up in Tampa, there was a lack of culinary culture. Chain restaurants such as Applebee's, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster dotted the suburban landscape of my hometown. Not that my family ate out a lot - when we did, it was always a special occasion. Most of our meals were prepared by my parents - my dad would come home usually around 5:30pm and begin prep: dicing tomatoes, washing the green snow peas, slicing tomatoes and jalapenos, and marinating the steak in soy sauce, sugar, rice wine.
My mother would come home from her job as a seamstress, tell us to go practice piano, and proceed to cook the components over a hot pan. The ingredients were combined, melded, and transformed into a beautiful dish of spicy beef punctuated by the crunch of snow peas, the savory gravy from the crushed tomatoes, and the layers of heat from the jalapenos that intensified steadily until the sweat pooled at the tip of your brow. That dish had it all - bold flavors, beautiful colors (green, red, and brown) presented in a delicate porcelain bowl streaked with blue brush strokes.
My education regarding fresh ingredients, color composition, and flavor profiles took a backseat during college. By swiping cards with "food points", I embraced the unparalleled access to dishes alien to my childhood. I'm talking Chick-Fil-A, queso and chips, bubble tea, and a bucket of 50 McNuggets. Food became a means to an end, a way to get fuel before the next dance practice that stretched for hours into the night.
Post-college, I lived at home and taught piano lessons to 17 kids in my neighborhood. I looked forward to dinnertime where we would either have freshly made dumplings, mapo tofu, egg and tomato, braised meatballs atop a canopy of cabbage, marinated pork belly with star anise, and other dishes that pushed the boundaries of flavor. I began experimenting and recreating some of my childhood dishes with my mother's guidance.
My food education rapidly accelerated after moving to New York. Starved, penniless, and jobless, I was cooped up in my cousin's 2br/2ba luxe apt near Madison Sq Park when I discovered cable TV, more specifically, the Food Network. I still remember the episode: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, drizzled something I've never heard of called balsamic vinegar glaze over a piece of seared salmon. Brimming with hope and confidence, I strutted to the Morton Williams grocery down the street, brought back the ingredients, and proceeded to fill the kitchen with plumes of acrid smoke, narrowly avoiding a kitchen fire in the process.
But practice makes perfect.
Eating out wasn't an option on my shoestring budget, so I learned to make do with the ingredients I could afford. Chicken breast was a staple as was tilapia. I devoured the cooking books at the local Barnes and Noble and tried out the techniques. Some worked and some didn't. Trial and error continued to stimulate my curiosity.
My first memorable dining experience occurred at a Japanese restaurant called Nobu with my brother and college roommate. It was the first time I heard of the word “prix-fixe” and at a whopping $75, which seemed like $750, we threw caution to the wind and plunked down our credit card for what turned out to be a mind-altering meal. I still remember tasting the rock shrimp in spicy mayo sauce along with my first taste of black cod with miso glaze. Needless to say, it was eye-opening for all 3 of us and was the impetus for my new obsession. Every time I got a paycheck, I blew the majority of it at other fine-dining restaurants in order to seek out these foreign flavors and to reproduce the eureka moment that was felt so strongly at Nobu.
My new hobby is photography which was born out of a 10-day, life-changing trip to Japan in January 2013. Documenting the varying spectrum of Japanese cuisine brought me to the point of exhaustion. But it was worth it. Upon seeing the album, many friends encouraged me to start a food blog to share my experiences through text and pictures. I dedicate this blog to all the friends who have given me encouragement and to Anna who finally kicked my butt into gear and helped me put pen to paper.
You guys rock.