Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I wasn't exposed to a wide variety of cuisines. The extent of dining options in my neighborhood were pizza, Chinese, fast food, and standard American fare (eventually a sushi restaurant popped up and even a Korean barbecue spot). Luckily, I grew up in a household with not one, but two strong culinary forces that influenced the blogger in front of you today.
My mom was (and still is) known for her ability to cook for the masses. Summertime usually meant family parties at our house with my mom making a huge spread of dishes ranging from pasta salad to lasagna to her signature palabok...something for everyone (oh, did I mention I had a picky eater brother who only ate burgers and Italian food? Yah). There was never a shortage of leftovers in our house.
My gramma on the other hand, was an every day cook. She ensured there was always dinner on the table and a rice cooker full of rice. Her meals were what I grew up with and remember most. They were simple, delicious and reliable. I knew on birthdays she would always make her special pancit. I don't know what was in it, but I do know it was on the table for every birthday dinner. I knew that Fridays during Lent (when we weren't noshing on some delicious pizza) meant either a variation on a Tortilla Espanola (swapping in tomatoes instead of potatoes) or a canned salmon dish I wasn't into AT ALL. She is also the reason I thought everyone ate ramen, not just poor college kids. She was a carnivore at heart and although her repertoire wasn't as diverse as my mom's, she sure knew how to make a comforting meal. Oh yeah, she's also responsible for my love of SPAM.
Kitchens and I didn't always get along. In fact, my first kitchen memory was an absolute disaster. I remember making oatmeal cookies with my mom, watching the cookie sheet go into the oven and a few minutes later witnessing those little balls of dough transform into an overflowing pool of liquid. Burning. Smoke. Oops. Needless to say, I took a time out from the kitchen after that.
My next kitchen memory was during a family party a couple years later. As usual, there was chaos in the kitchen and not enough hands to get things done. My mom had me stir a pot as she worked on other dishes. Naturally, I snuck a taste and hesitated before making my very first suggestion. More salt.
It wasn't until college that I returned to a kitchen and it was purely because I had to if I wanted to eat (and by eat, I mean snack and by snack I mean ramen, mac 'n cheese, popcorn or cookies) or socialize. I had a pot. An $8 pot from Safeway. A pot I actually still had before I left DC. For the first year I owned that pot, all it saw was water. Exciting, right?
Eventually I moved to a house with friends and then my own apartment. REAL kitchens. I read cookbooks, but the only dishes my kitchen ever saw were quesadillas (SO many varieties), black bean & mango salsa, scrambled eggs, soupy black beans, and a buttery corn dish with garlic and dill. I followed a couple recipes here and there, but it came down to two things 1) I never had all the ingredients or tools to make what I wanted to and 2) I lacked the attention span to follow recipes. Sue me. College. Hi.
Once I moved into a quasi-real person apartment after graduation, I was all about entertaining friends with adult beverages and food. I loved cooking for friends and hearing what they thought about the food...constructive criticism, right? I found myself paying a little more attention to my roommates and their cooking styles, testing out recipes and eventually becoming comfortable tossing a few random ingredients together.
The truth comes out...
Where am I going with all this? I thought it was about time I 'fessed up. After all, you've all used blogging as a means of accountability. I need to be held accountable. If I put this out there, there's no turning back. No chickening out, no more procrastinating.
You see, my move to San Francisco was actually a very calculated one (and you thought I just loved the place). I had a surprisingly detailed 3-year plan mapped out before taking the plunge, all culminating with a degree in the Culinary Arts. Yep, I'm guilty of being that girl. I'm also almost halfway through a year of that 3-year plan and am starting to think it should be a 4-year plan.
I've done my research, and even read Anthony Bourdain's (I still heart you!) cynical takes on the hoards of people wanting to go to culinary school in recent years. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't question this plan of mine. In fact, I question it even more now that I'm here. I know I'm going to accrue an obscene amount debt only to go into an industry that doesn't exactly ensure a high return on investment. I also know most people will wonder why I'm even bothering with this. Why me? Why now?
I know there are plenty of reasons for me not to go to culinary school. I think about them all the time. But at the end of the day, cooking and food...it's ALL I think about. It's what I enjoy. It's what's comfortable. It fits.
Do I want to be a restaurant chef? Right now, no. But who knows, maybe after all the working and schooling, I'll decide that's exactly what I want to be. Until then, I've found comfort knowing that there are other options out there. Options that combine cooking with the corporate world I've spent the past 7 years in.
It's taken me awhile to come out with this, mostly because I know for a fact that there are plenty of skilled home cooks out there; people that are so talented and creative on their own. It seemed silly for me to even consider something like this. ME, the girl that only recently learned how to properly store tomatoes.
But you know what? I want to learn more. So I'm going to. Because I want to. And because I can.