…just a little additional info to give you an idea where I’m coming from
Obsessed with travel and on the hunt for the next great flavor, I got into food at a very early age. While most kids loved PBS for Sesame Street, I was sitting too close to the television for The Frugal Gourmet. Around the age of twelve I got into the kitchen alone and began to torment my family with bullet proof meatloaves and soggy pastas. Had it not been for some basic fire safety learned at Holbrook Jr. Sr. High School , I would have certainly burned down my parents house with a nasty little bacon grease fire I started on a “sick day” home from school. Upon entering The George Washington University in 1998, I realized that these early mishaps were actually blessings. Of the twenty or so full scale fire evacuations that occurred over that four year period, I can proudly say I was never once to blame.
Four years at that D.C. university provided me with a degree in English and a well equipped kitchen to experiment with. By senior year I was broiling steaks and baking calzones. Damn, I miss those days when reading a book in the sun was considered homework and I could stay up late into the night experimenting in the kitchen. But all good things must come to an end to make room for better things; I had landed a teaching job in Japan which turned out to be a whole new kind of education.
“Yes, Mr. Japanese Junior High School Principal”
“You are getting thinner.”
“Thank you, I mean, really?”
“I have noticed you haven’t been eating your school lunch.”
He was right, those teachers that didn’t have classrooms of their own ate lunch together everyday which meant my new boss played witness to my lunch break antics. At the time, tofu scared me, fish still scares me to this day and every time I would ask someone to identify the bumpy purple vegetable on my plate they would say something like, “that is a Japanese pickle”. What? Thanks to my phobia of all that funky new food, I threw myself into learning how to read menus in Japanese, which is one of the very few Japanese language skills I still retain. Once I could identify things on my own, I really got into the food- udon noodles, curries, rice balls the Japanese could even take foreign foods like cream puffs to a new level. This was my first prolonged exposure to a country that treated food with respect, it wasn’t just fuel; it was another opportunity for excellence. After two years I left Japan convinced that tofu is the other white meat, quality kicks quantity’s butt, and pizza with asparagus, bacon and mayonnaise isn't necessarily a bad thing. I returned to the U.S. with plenty of new ideologies to foist onto my friends and family completely unprepared for the reverse culture shock that awaited. After four months I realized I was not ready to repatriate into the land of big cars and big shopping carts; I wanted to go somewhere new. Why not Italy?
Italy’s culinary tradition is so prolific that it’s actually become cliché, but here’s the thing; the food really is that good. I learned quickly that if I wanted to understand Italian food, I had to get out of the restaurants and into the kitchen. Fresh mozzarella for less than a dollar, tomatoes with flavor, wines, lemons and cheeses; it didn’t embarrass me to audibly moan over the flavor of a green bean. I could do all of this tasting on my own, but my real education began when I met Valeria. One day I answered an ad for an au pair job and the next I was sitting in her kitchen still unsure that I was ready to give up my life of freedom to live with a family and become the caretaker of two young children. She wooed me with food. Every night of my “trial” week it was something else. I had hamburgers of stunning quality, pasta al pesto, scamorza cheese, pasta al sugo, fresh ricotta drizzled with honey… she would load me up with leftovers of grilled eggplant parmesan for my roommates. What was freedom compared to this? Her broth did me in. Made with beef fillet, carrots, celery and onions, it was presented in a shallow bowl filled with bits of al dente pasta the size of pearls topped with melting parmigiano reggiano and olive oil; I was in awe. How could something so simple taste like this?
Stricken with food induced dementia I bargained my life away too easily ultimately working with the family for less than three months, in the end choosing freedom over food. In those three months I had the good fortune to visit Valeria’s hometown in Puglia. There I had my first burrata and sausages, yogurts, crepes with nutella, salads with sweet lettuce, gelato… the quality there set the standards I live by today. I learned Valeria’s recipes by loitering in her kitchen. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t find her in front of the stove. Mind you she had a live-in cook and maid which indicates just what kind of Southern Italian woman she was. She taught me how to really clean a house, how to really boil pasta and an appreciation for quality ingredients that changed the way I eat.
Anyone who has lived in Italy knows that at some point you just have to leave. For me it took the theft of all of my valuables from the third story apartment I was sleeping in. I woke up and everything was gone; I had, had enough. I wanted to relocate to a city that was calmer, safer and easier, but fate led me to New York City instead. And that’s where I am today, Brooklyn. I’ve been here for almost three years working unexpectedly in the fashion industry. But my true passion lies in food writing and that’s what this blog is all about. Thanks to Semester at Sea and my years in Japan and Italy I have been fortunate enough to visit over twenty-five countries and I have no plans to stop. In Vietnam it was the thought of pineapple pancakes and thick Vietnamese coffee that got me up in the mornings while the prospect of hot jerk chicken kept me up on Jamaican nights. I love to travel and it is the food that I find along the way that keeps me going.