I’m no gourmet chef. I can roast a decent turkey for Thanksgiving, I can make a decent mac n’ cheese casserole a la my Mom’s recipe which involved adding taco meat, I can throw together a decent salad, I can put a sandwich together and I can marinate a pork chop in leftover salad dressing and throw it in the broiler. When I started cooking in my own kitchen in college the only truffles I knew of were the ones that were made of chocolate not ones that were foraged by specially trained pigs and dogs. Pasta came out of a box, tomato sauce from a jar and pesto from a little plastic tub at the grocery store but I had no idea how it was made. Now I own a pasta maker, there’s no way I would ever buy pesto when basil is in season and sold by the gigantic bunch at the farmer’s market, I know how to use the leftover pasta water to finish the sauce, I make a killer pizza from scratch, and I now keep home made flavored simple syrups in my fridge to mix my own sodas. So where did all this come from? Let’s go back as far as I can remember...
If you ask my husband, he will take all the credit for my culinary adventures and will tell you that I couldn’t boil water when he met me but I always loved to go out to a good dinner. Liking good food didn’t necessarily mean I knew how to cook it right? I come from a family where Sunday dinners were a big “to do” at grandma’s house and holidays were an extension of Sunday dinners but took far more planning and prep time since it was a holiday. We didn’t eat out often, my Mom actually cooked dinners at home pretty regularly during the week and Sundays were reserved for Grandma’s house. I never really spent time in the kitchen with them learning how to cook. I would help measure things out and help follow recipes but I never really learned the techniques and the “how to”. In the midst of this “stay-at-home and cook” culture my parents did successfully instill a culture of “going out to dinner” when we were fairly young too. Dad taught me how to pick out a good steak and to never eat it well done but medium rare, we got to order shirley temples when Mom and Dad ordered their cocktails, I got introduced to lobster, scallops, oysters and everything that came out of the sea and I started to appreciate appetizer, entree and dessert courses and how they went together and created a dining experience. I learned that food is an adventure and dining out was the time to try things that you otherwise would not have a chance to experience and a chance to spend time with family and friends and just enjoy a good meal.
When I moved to NYC I wasn’t really on a culinary adventure. I was here for college and a chance to have a career as a dancer. Eating at this point was really only a necessity. We went out to mediocre places after shows to celebrate but it was more about the company we kept and the drinks that we drank rather than the food. It wasn’t until my good friend Tobie moved to NYC post 9/11 that I really had the chance to see what the dining scene was all about. She introduced me to my first meal with wine pairing, my first “tasting menu”, my first behind the scenes look at a professional kitchen, my first $75 glass of sake (which at the time seemed insanely expensive) and she was even there when my shellfish allergy decided to rear it’s ugly head in the form of hives all over my body. It was of course, after an INCREDIBLE soft shell crab we ate at Nobu. After that, my boyfriend (at the time), now husband and my good friend Binh Thai started looking for culturally different food throughout NYC to sample flavors and customs we had never tried before. I came to realize that I was living in a city where you could find anything and everything and it was GOOD! You just had to be willing to travel a bit and step out of your comfort zone and try it. I was introduced to Ethiopian, some of the best Thai I had ever tasted (ironically at a place called “Pam Real Thai Food”), good street food, authentic Italian, Japanese comparable to my grandma’s, good and bad Chinese, Afghani, African and more fusion foods than I can remember.
In the midst of all this my husband decided that I should “learn to cook”. (Don’t believe everything he says, I could cook but I needed some guidelines and technique to make it better and boy are they better!) He signed us up for a cooking class at The Social Table www.thesocialtable.com. The owner Rebecca Goldfarb was so much fun we ended up signing up for as many classes as we could get in to over the course of that year. All of a sudden I felt like a pro! I learned knife skills, I learned how to make my own pasta, I learned how the make a kick ass tiramisu, I learned how to cook fish in my apartment without stinking up the place, I learned how to make my own whipped cream and I found out that chocolate mousse was actually really easy to make. This was a whole new world that I had never experienced before! Not only was the cuisine different from Mom’s and Grandma’s but I learned the “how to” which gave me more of a sense of accomplishment than I had ever felt cooking in my life!
So that’s where it started I guess. I grew up in a culture where food is and important social tool and I ended up in a city that had so much to offer I simply had to take advantage of it. I dedicate this blog to my grandma and her best friend who always had an amazing meal in front of us even if it was just doctored leftovers from the fridge, my husband who likes to take credit for my cooking prowess and my best friend Tobie who has taught me that the most interesting and amazing meals can come from a 5 star restaurant or the street vendor on the corner. It’s just about putting good ingredients and good people together.