Food and socialising are a natural pairing for me. I grew up in central Pennsylvania where the community revolved around potlucks and perogies. This culture plus the cooking methods of my working Mother left me on the heavier side. Add beer, calzones and wings to the mix when I went to college and…let’s just say that I was doubling up, but I wasn’t talking about my major! When I was launched into adulthood, I learned to cook for two reasons: I was too poor to eat out and I wanted to learn more about what I was taking into my body. Eating out was not an option but learning how to cook my favorite dishes was! Turns out I was good at it! Good enough to eventually be invited by a friend’s wife to join the teaching staff at the cooking school that she leads in Marin county/San Francisco. I loved it! Never mind that I was 25+ and working nights and weekends to teach around my day job. The long hours didn’t matter. I loved learning from the more senior staff. I loved teaching techniques instead of just recipes, so students could take actual skills they could use on another recipes home with them. I loved the spark in a student’s eye when a kitchen “secret” became unlocked to them and they first realised – Hey! I can do this! It was so gratifying passing on my knowledge and tips from my own journey from eater to home chef.
Being able to cook is an essential life skill in the same vein as being able to do your own laundry or managing your bank account. It gives confidence that you can take care of yourself and your loved ones. Plus, it’s a great party trick! I have suspected more than once that I as invited to a BBQ or dinner party because I would not show up empty handed! Finally, being able to cook and knowing what ingredients and techniques are used on a recipe is akin to understanding how the engine of a car works. When you understand the components of a recipe or the techniques used to create it then you can navigate the roads of any menu. When you learn that you love a taste, like yuzu or bone marrow, then you can start to explore with similar tastes! Alternatively, this knowledge extends beyond choosing healthier cooked foods but also to the foundational flavours of other cuisines like Coriander/Cilantro in Mexican food, crushed peanuts in Thai, or star anise in Chinese dishes which are common aversions.
Years ago, I went on a trip to Japan to ski and then see the sights with a group of friends. One of the guys on the trip started the trip by casually mentioning that he didn’t really like fish very much. WHAT!?! Over the course of the trip, he complained about the “hidden fish” in every dish regardless of whether it was fish based or not. Eventually, I was able to figure out that it was the dashi and, potentially, the seaweed that is so essential to Japanese cooking that he was sensitive to! Dashi, which is flaked, dried, fish and seaweed are both used to create the “5th flavour” named umami. They both contain natural MSG which brings a natural savouriness to any dish. It is not an ingredient to English cuisine so, without having known about the essentials of Japanese food, poor Richard would have died of starvation from all the “hidden fish”. Knowledge is power, folks. Knowledge is power.
Over the years, I have always kept one foot in the cooking and restaurant industry. I’ve done almost everything from work the line or wait tables in a restaurant, teaching, working with Austin’s food & festival or having my own pop-up restaurants and dinner clubs. I never stray from my passion and bringing my passion to those who share my enthusiasm for exploration through cooking. Over the years, a pattern emerged of a cooking video, dinner club, or pop-up restaurant following my trip to a far-off land. Greece, Germany, Thailand, South Africa, Morocco – my love of traveling and natural ability to draw connections from my own culture to these new lands through their cuisine never fades, never gets old. Everything about a culture manifests in its gastronomy. Whether its history, geography, economics, religion, biology – its all there in the ingredients, techniques and rituals of their cuisines. Connecting cultures through cuisines is a movement that we can all grab a little taste of what the world has to offer.