My passion for food sparked back when I was a hungry chubby-cheeked youngster watching my Asian father prepare his Korean kalbi ribs and helping my Polish mother stuff hundreds of homemade pierogis. My father’s kalbi, dripping with soy sauce marinade, was so exceptionally tender and savory that it gained a reputation on the island of Oahu, where I was born and raised. With every party, every potluck, every holiday, people demanded that my father cook his kalbi, and he ensured that the recipe remain classified. Even to this day only my brother and I know how to replicate his signature dish.
Perhaps it was her maternal nature in protecting me from the dangers of the kitchen (the sharpness of the knives, the scorching flames from the oven burners!) but my mom made me believe that cooking was a privilege. I was only allowed to help if I had been obedient and if thoroughly washed my hands with soap and water. The second I’d see her tie back her apron, I’d toss my Barbie dolls aside and jump at the chance to roll meatballs or chop mushrooms or shave Parmesan. My mom would reward me for my hard work by letting me lap up cookie dough from the baking whisk, where I’d jam my tongue between the cold wires, licking it remarkably clean. Sometimes she would even slyly slip me a piece of raw beef from a fold of a Polish golumpki stating, “You shouldn’t be eating this, but here you go…” I’d gaze at her grinning, while plucking the soft, pink meat from her warm fingertips. She’d stare down at me, green eyes sparkling back. It was the first secret we ever shared.
My family was anchored by each night as we cooked together and ate together. The definition of family and dinner could not be separated. They were one in the same, which ultimately made me believe that if dinner was family, and family was love, then dinner was love. Food was love.
When I grew into a carefree teenager (I was one of the few who remained so innocent for so long), I gleefully enforced “Theme Night” dinners upon my whole family, which meant that if we were whipping up all-American burgers and bacon-wrapped hot dogs for the “U.S.A. rocks!” theme, we all had to be clad in red, white, and blue as well. My younger brother would groan when I asked him to wear a sombrero for “Adoro México” night, but by the time our bellies were busting with tacos and nachos, everyone was laughing hysterically over our family tradition.
As life happened, I remained closely in love with food as it played a starring role in each stage of my life. It expanded my belt known as the “Freshman 15” during my college years. When I moved to London, post-college, I sat in my hostel room sobbing with fear that I’d never find a flat or a job. I considered moving back to the States, until my best friend busted into our room holding a cone of England’s finest Fish and Chips. Smiling, she waved the cone in front of me and I yanked a single chip from that vinegary bouquet. Upon first taste I decided: I would stay in London and I would love it. Later on, I backpacked through Europe, exploring museums and castles and nightclubs and parks, but for me it was through the food that I could identify with each city’s culture. Madrid will always be the dripping thick Chocolate Con Churros I lapped up with delight. London will always be the crispy Hampstead Heath crepes which oozed with savory cheese and fresh spinach. And Bordeaux will always be the French baguettes I’d smother in Nutella and brie cheese and unsalted butter.
Now I am a woman tiptoeing the line between my 20s and 30s and food has been loaded with a new meaning of love; one that knows heartbreak and one that knows renewal. I fell in love with a man over fried pigs ears and yellowtail crudo and I fell out of love with another man over culatello and rosemary foccacia. When I went through a tough breakup and moved to the first apartment of my own, my three best friends and I toasted to my new life by cooking red pepper and bleu cheese fusilli and heirloom bruschetta. After I audaciously quit a job I loathed, I drove straight to my favorite Mexican hole-in-the-wall and celebrated with cheese enchiladas and loads of pico de gallo. I’ve been seduced over an early morning asiago cheese scramble (hot red strawberries rolled in brown sugar on the side). I’ve cried over a meal of roasted bone marrow and duck fat pomme frittes. I believe there isn’t a day so rough that truffle mac & cheese can’t brighten. There isn’t a heartbreak I’ve felt which can’t be softened with a glass of Pinot and mouthfuls of burrata topped garlic bread.
For all the reasons food has never been just a meal for me, for all the reasons I believe food is love…
Here is Eat Your Heart Out L.A.