Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Tonight I watched the finals of "Top Chef Masters" and I was moved. The final chefs were given a final challenge of a four course meal.

1. Your first food memory.
2. The food that made you become a chef.
3. The opening of your first restaurant.
4. Your future.

And then Rick Bayless said that this was all "the story of your life on a plate."

This resonated with me on so many levels. I have been told for many years that I am a storyteller when it comes to words but could I do the same with food? Because although most of the time when I cook, I believe that I have put my heart and soul on a plate, I'm not sure if others realize that. And so I thought of the challenge in terms of what I would do. I don't have memories of the last two so I will have to imagine.

First food memory? My challenge would be in turning my first memory into a starter. My first food memory comes from helping my paternal grandmother bake. And over the years I have become a much different baker than she was. She measured everything exactly, leveling the spoons and cups. While I use measuring implements when baking, my measurements are still not exact. This might be why when I give recipes to others, they are not able to duplicate what I produce. I now read all the time how baking is an exact science. There is a narrow range of "fudge" room in there though. And somehow in my eyes, my heart I know just what this is. So my battle is how does one create a starter out of something that is usually sweet? Unless I go with some kind of savory bread like the ones I did a couple of years ago with the caramelized onions with blue cheese.

The next I like to think of as, "What made you love cooking?" My sophomore year of college, one of my roommates had a copy of a basic James Beard cookbook. She never used it but I read it often and tried out things. I think the turning point for me was poaching chicken in white wine with tarragon. Until this point, I had never heard of tarragon. And I was raised by Southerners. We just didn't poach stuff. And then I used the liquid to make a sauce. I combined this with another cookbook I picked up and used the meat and liquid to create crepes. Basically I read one recipe for poached chicken and realized that there was a great deal more that was out there.

At this time, I have a deep love of spices and herbs. My favorite flavors are those of the Mediterranean and those of India. There is actually some overlap between the two. Part of the reason why I tried out that recipe for the ribs recently was because the rub incorporated a great deal of the spices that are common in Indian food. And I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I could distinctly taste the cardamom. So who am I now? I'm all about traditional cooking methods with global flavors.

And the future? I haven't gotten that far. I'm enjoying the now too much at the moment. But I'm pretty sure it will be a continuation of blending tastes of the past with the new flavors I have yet to experience.


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