MY JOURNEY INTO FOOD

MY JOURNEY TO FOOD

Most days I can be found in my kitchen, creating new products, mixing and adding things that most people will tell you are awful together, testing ingredients or techniques I’ve heard about, just because I’m curious, bottling something I’ve just made, looking for that edge that keeps me inspired and out of trouble. These intrigues in my kitchen lead me to places that show me how curious and imperfect I am.

As a young child, I lived in Thailand, where no doubt, I first explored the taste for the exotic (though unknowingly at the time) which I think influenced my journey with food today that crosses so many cultures.

Perhaps this began watching the Thai cooks on the streets in very little spaces prepping entire meals. Perhaps it began while shopping with my mother on the floating markets in Bangkok for fresh produce she couldn’t pronounce or had ever seen, hoping all seafood came without fangs or long whiskers.  Gradually, I came to realize that my mother lived and breathed food and she loved to shop for ingredients as much as she loved to cook and she passed that on to me.

I grew very fond of this passionate culinary landscape she introduced me to. Even as a little kid, I liked the tastes coming directly out of the Bangkok kitchens more than my mother’s adapted California/English-style/Bangkok kitchen.  She did try to throw in the odd Thai green curry occasionally and use fresh coriander and chill paste but she remained pretty planted in western cuisine even while in Thailand. After all, those were her roots but I have to give her credit as she endeavoured to learn about the Thai food culture.

Tableware and cutlery wasn’t so abundant in the Bangkok kitchen at that time. but strange tools like chopsticks. Open fire wok cooking over rudimentary stoves was the norm; huge cleavers used instead of knives which etched a depression into the blackened chopping blocks from years of use and where blood would pool when meat was cut.

The approved protocol of also eating with your fingers was a big imprint on a kid!  Savoury, sweet and spicy items are fond memories along with noodles heaped on pandan leaves with crispy whole fish with bulging eyes, sticky pungent sauces, hot fragrant spices, colourful wet pastes with lemon grass, kefir, lime, whole chilies, stinky fish sauce, roasted peanuts, green mangos, fresh herbs, tamarind candies rubbed in salt and sugar, silky coconut milk fried ’til it splits with sweet and fragrant Jasmine rice I thought my mother had mistakenly poured her Shalimar into. One big playground of new experiences from a young perspective.

Upon my return from Bangkok to California where I was born, the layers of influence on my partially grown up palate (at 7) continued although now the food culture was Southern/ California /Mexican.  Traditional American fare managed to embed itself pretty deeply in me. This new lifestyle fortunately came without dinners in the dark, powdered milk, mosquito nets over the beds and wildlife casually wandering through the house with large shutter doors and windows that were left opened throughout the day.

The menu radically changed and so did the dining protocol already rooted in me from Bangkok. Sometimes dinner was very formal but mostly not. TV during dinner – occasionally on TV trays, real milk in tall aluminum purple tumblers to keep it cold of course, hominy grits Yuk!, burgers, tacos, Cesar salads, lots of steaks, frozen lima beans and succotash, baked potatoes with chives, sour cream and bacon bits, mac and cheese, wieners with pineapple skirts and cheddar cheese, chilli with brown sugar, beans and pork, fried abalone my father would dive for and we would deep sea fish together for the bass, halibut and albacore.  Things were boiled, baked and BBQ’d.  In the large freezer in the garage were mega size cartons of fake overly sweet Spumoni ice cream. I would eat the line of chocolate on the end…the only thing Italian that ever made it into my mother’s kitchen. Never did a pizza or a lasagna pass my lips all throughout my childhood. Guess my Mother & Dad hated Italian fare outside of the Spumoni.

During university in Colorado – Southwest cuisine became more of an observation of university food culture because we frequented Dairy Queen and mostly ate unidentifiable dorm food.  Funnily, my love for  Southwest cuisine didn’t hit me on a cellular level until after I moved to Canada. It was only then when I returned to the Southwest as an adult to photograph landscapes which continued for many years, did I pay attention to their cuisine. During those trips to the Southwest, fresh and dried roasted chilies became my soul mates along with thick goopy moles, chili verdes, stacks of tortillas made from real masa harina, and homemade salsas. They all moved into my food column of love. Also this is when I truly learned to befriend the Margarita! Or did it befriend me?

All the years of gathering & recording smells and tastes seemed to unfold about now after I moved to Canada where I have lived and worked for 48 years. It has become a very rich part of my adventures and still remains so.

Included in my Canadian experience I attended both art school and cooking school. Emily Carr University of Art and Design and The Art Institute of Vancouver. Upon graduation from cooking school, I found myself needing to inspire others through teaching to share & enjoy the fun, beauty, creativity, spontaneity of food and the cross-cultural expressions that can happen with food. Also I wanted to help take the fear out of the kitchen experience which would occur through removing the recipes, thus allowing the magical and the unexpected to happen, without cortisol levels rising! For many years I shared menu designs, techniques and thoughts about food from my home-based and sometimes tipsy cooking classes which of course helped people relax around food.

As time moved on, the osmosis of all these food experiences that had been taking place all these years merged into the creation of Holy Grail Kitchen Co in 2008, a small artisanal food company producing all things sweet and savoury. Food products. which I made in my home kitchen showcasing sauces with deep character, hand-made preserves, tapenades, chocolates and chocolate sauces, condiments with ingredients that should have been married a long time ago.

Currently, I would like to write about and photograph food and have started putting together the elements to try and do this. I am interested in expanding my ideas about this interesting path – the topic of food.

Some people I admire who have tested the time with their love of food are Alice Waters, George Papin, Julia Child, Jose Andres, Madhur Jaffrey, Michael Solomon, Marcella Hazan & with gratitude, not least, my mother.

“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate
you know  someone’s fingers have been all over it!”
~ Julia Child