Pork Belly

So you know, I get stressed.   When my mother stresses me out it involves a long drawn out lecture on being a woman on being a successful woman on being a successful asian woman.  Who doesn’t want success?  It’s more of a question of how do I obtain it and what does it mean to me.  Some people spend the majority of their lives seeking this out.  Hopefully that won’t be me (knocks on wood). I find solace in the kitchen.  I’ve said it before but you know the other day it really hit.  I was stressed out a bit and all I wanted to do was cook.  I wasn’t hungry, but I got antsy and wanted to cook what? I didn’t know! But I just wanted to create something.

My mother cooked on a budget.   She raised a family of 5 on a low and rigid fixed income, but somehow she managed to kick out some of the freshest and most flavorful meals that were full, fresh and balanced.  An abundance of crisp greens, various pickled or preserved items, and fresh herbs. Her cooking brought to life so many of the senses; cold, hot, sweet, sour, salty, fishy, meaty, bitter.  My mother had a knack for making simple cuts of meats, and vegetables taste so different and oh so flavorful throughout the years.  I never remember being bored at the table.  That is why lately, I’ve been so drawn to simplicity.  Just another way of cooking, less aromatics, more technique and well simplicity.  One of those “let the flavors come out by themselves” .  Of course some coaxing from salt helps.

o  A wonderful memory I have is of her homemade molasses.   The smells would permeate the air of our apartment.  The bubbling dark black liquid gave a rich burnt thick slighty bitter ember smell that was oh so soothing.  She used this frequently in her braised meat dishes.  She also inspired me to marry sweet and salty together.  I like to add sugars, jams, fruits, sweet wines,  fruit juices even sodas to some of my braises.  I remember.  I am learning to hone in on my memories past and present to create…

The other night I made a Persimmon and Carrot soup with potatoes and a slight kick of ginger and clove. Call it your variation of a ginger carrot soup.  I ended up with a mixture that was about eighty percent as a puree.   I tend to prefer that rustic texture.  It was nice because the combination of the sweet carrots and sweet persimmons melded well together, all while bleeding out a rich and delightful orange.

Growing up, my mothers pantry was well stocked with fresh veggies, lovely exotic aromatics, dried goods, and lean meats.  My mother didn’t have the luxury of shopping at a Whole Foods or any of those specialty grocery shops, she shopped at the local Asian market, where the fish smells swam all through the isles.  Where it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg to feed a family.  Where the meats weren’t all grassfed, and where the fish were fished, gutted and fried right in front of you.  Tropical smells in the isles, bad packaging in the packaged food section.  And well… it wasn’t the most sanitary looking place.

She may have lacked the means to a farm to table meal but what she didn’t lack was the use of spices, herbs, and other ingredients that would expand her daily dinners.  What was braised pork loin with soy sauce and garlic,  the next day was braised pork loin with ginger, marinated grilled pork over broken rice another day or her ever so popular fish sauce braised pork belly with whole hard boiled eggs.  She used her wonderful homemade molasses for this.

I remember when we ate that specific pork belly dish, there was always that accompaniment of pickled bitter greens. Pretty similar to bok choy, I would consider it…slightly spicy.  Maybe even similar to wasabi.  But when pickled it was crisp and  cold, tart and tangy.  The eggs were my favorite part. After they were hard enough, I would help her peel them and plunge them into the rich pork broth bath.  When finished, the eggs yielded this lovely brown coat that was so pretty when it was cut in half.

“Don’t eat too many eggs…they aren’t good for you” my mother would say.  But it’s sooooo good! The soft fatty pork that fell apart, the sweet and the savory the broth that flavored the jasmine rice was like heaven to me. It was so pretty, the layers of the rich glutenous fat and pork, the egg that was multi layered with colors from the broth that was permeating into the whites.  It was a thick heart clogging Vietnamese bacon! My mother banned this dish from the house because of health reasons.  I still miss it.

It’s so amazing how much we can be influenced by our memories.  Whenever I cook I always think of the people I care about.  A lot of it is making them happy through food.

An artist once stated that, “for me the best feeling I have when im painting is when i dont know how its gonna end…for me its a feeling of a challenge and a risk and for the ability that I dont know what the end result is going to be…I get a lot of joy from that.” – Maya Hayuk

I get the same feeling when I cook.

I’ve been spending some time at the library, or bringing home various culinary books to read.  The other day one inspired me to study more French technique and cuisine. I made something that night that came from the influence of another culture.  With Vietnamese cuisine there is quite the French influence.

As the soup was bubbling and boiling I then gave my attention to the chicken thighs.  One caste iron skillet later I had myself a nice chicken dinner.  The chicken’s skin crisped and browned to perfection as it roasted atop a bed of green apples and onions.   As flavors concentrated and deepened I finished the dish up with a braised milk sauce using the lovely brown remnants of the pan.

I had little to work with, but it WAS because I had little to work with what I had.  Something beautiful and spontaneous   When you have less you learn to work with more of your imagination.   The persimmon soup was a bit French a bit Vietnamese a lil’ bit Italian.  I topped the soup with a fresh sage leaf and a lovely drizzle of olive oil.  I began to plate: Placing the chicken atop the asparagus I knew I had accomplished something!  Just like the artist’s quote I got so much joy from the end result.  I let the sauce reduce just slightly and whisked a little butter.  A little drizzle over the chicken and a bit around the plate and there it was.

You know what’s so fun about it? It’s the feeling that your mind is racing  creating at that moment, consistent imagination and a plate delicious food.

Clint Eastwood….

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (sometimes). 

Life is not very balanced is it? Is it just being 27 and not quite figuring it out yet, or maybe it’s just that hard sometimes to get back on your feet after you’ve been laid off.  Yesterday I was slicing Coppa. 700 slices into it and I wasn’t even bored.  I’ve heard horror stories of a roomful of potatoes… maybe that guy meant a bucket and a lot os exageration.  Today as I was peeling salsify I though would get bored of this if given a bucket plus to peel?  No…I used to really like cleaning calamari. What would take 3 hours the first time was 1 hour next time. Same with pizza dough.  It was at a bar downtown. It was transitioning from a nightclub, into a restaurant.   In the day a full French/ Mediterranean restaurant and at night transforming into a loud dance club.  2 months into it bye bye chef–so his sous became the head honcho and I became her part-time left arm (you catch this joke?). Oh yeah, I worked the bar shift after my days at the museum.  So that meant loads of apps and bar items, like fries. 

Days were spent working at a museum and at night I ran outta work to become a cocktail waitress.  I was stable enough to give up the cocktail shift, if the new chef would give the non culinary grad a chance.  She did–and this would my novice first start.  I learned a couple of things; what a walk in was (know i know…), bainmarie , a hotel pan, a sheet pan, how to pull pizza dough, how to clean calamari, how to clean up the kitchen, how to toss in a bowl with just a flick of the arm.

Some bad some good.  

Well balance…with the good comes the bad. The good and the bad and of course the ugly… the sharp  knife–the bad cut–and the horrible scar, the bottom of the barrel and rising to the top through the muck in the middle.  Satisfaction… am I ever going to see it? 

These past couple of months, I have been fortunate to have met some interesting people along the way.  Usually they have given up something to be in the kitchen. Especially the ones that decided to pursue cooking.  Stories include but are not limited to; one person graduating from Cornell and who steered away from his major, the other person was an engineer, another Univ. of Boulder Grad turned Architect, people with their M.A’s, MfA’s PhD”s, painters, sculpters, an ex hotel manager, a luxury goods and retail manager, one guy even refused the financial help of his wealthy family ( I would try to negotiate with the rents‘ ). All these individuals now work in the kitchen as staff or Chef or Owner.  

 I didn’t give up much I just got laid off (hope that didn’t sound bitter), and of course I’m not bitter.  A pastry cook relayed an experience to me of a time when she decided 10 years after she graduating from college that she wanted to give up her lucrative career to attend baking school.  It was so nice to see her lift her head up high and say,”You know when you wake up everyday and are happy to be doing what your doing it’s not so bad…” Doesn’t that sound so cliche?  I mean it is but,  it’s a common anthem for people like her.  She did also tell me that if she knew what was to come that she would not have paid all that money to culinary school.  See with good the bad.  

Two chefs that I have worked with really helped me gain the confidence to be thrown in a kitchen, my mentors. I told them this and one guy replied,  “Well I wish I would have steered you away from that path”.  I think he meant it jokingly.   This same Chef told me a story about how when he was first apprenticing, his chef had decided that from out of nowhere he was the victim–so with a stabbing point of a finger and the brutal image of and red stained bucket, the whole tub of tomato sauce was poured all over him, in the walk-in. I still laugh when I think of this story.   

See, thats the great thing about this all.  I love hearing some of these stories of what people have gone through for cooking.  One of my favorite pictorials and spreads in a magazine was the Gourmet magazine PARIS volume. An Argentinian woman began cooking at 30 and has gained world wide recognition for her food.  She states that she stayed in Paris because she fell in love with a boy.  How charming. I like hearing stories about how food captures a bit or a whole lot of somebody’s heart.  

I knew someone who connected the warm and amazing food of their childhood, and associating that with some of the greatest moments of their life.  Comparing the fresh pasta that their mother made or recalling what East Coast pizza tastes like.  I know many people will always feel that it was their “mothers” something that was so good (don’t laugh), I mean I’ve heard people say “My mom made the best this…”  or that.  And, it’s true.  My mom made the best eggrolls, and noodle soups HANDS DOWN!! 

Another Chef told me a great story of persistency and about his first restaurant gig.  At 30 he discovered that he wanted to cook. He learned to cook because “I missed my mom’s cooking and I had to cook for myself”.  He had been a regular at the restaurant for years but decided that that wasn’t enough.  He bugged a particular chef who would later become his mentor about working in the kitchen. “Absolutely not” or “Are you sure?” his mentor would say.  Pointless to mention but to make for better writing,  persistency worked out for him–4 months of it.    One day he opens up the daily paper and “Oh Look” that same restaurant was calling for kitchen help.  So the chef gave him his chance and he worked his way up, and now he owns one of my favorite places here in the city.  

My parents talked me out of going to a trade school for cooking, so I decided that Art History was my best bet. I still use my college degree, when I talk about art; surrealism to post modernists.  The people that i’ve met have really helped me realize that you don’t always have to go to culinary school.  This idea was a great factor to me to never dive into cooking.  But this time I was persistent.

Food connects me when I am away from my mother and my father.  When this happens I like to explore the Vietnamese cuisine around town, but as always,  nothing compares to mamma’s clean good cookin’.

Leather…

You know I’m not 21 anymore…I find that my hustle to get by day by day is getting harder and harder.   My track record right now since my layoff isn’t the greatest as said by one of my close friends, but the catalyst to my breaking into cooking was my layoff; from a great and consistent 9-5 w/ health insurance. Le sigh…ahhhhhhhhh.  Just when I thought that my college education gave me a great job with room for growth–once again I was thrown back to becoming a waitress “just got for a little bit”… so now the journey into the kitchen…

It still affects me–that layoff.  Lately it’s been such a struggle to keep up with finances and bills. But I just have to keep on moving.  The second job? The Third job?  I think of the frivolous spending amidst a couple of months ago, I think of the holidays to come, I think of the new job that will be starting in December the working nights and the weekends.  It’s gonna be quite the transition. 

I’m not writing about anything bad, but in this journey to becoming a “chef” I am currently starting at the bottom when once I was steady stable and often times longing to cook.  Whether I am prepping squash, pears, beets, garlic, pizza dough or frozen calamari, or whether I’m on the line; I enjoy these moments…I just don’t enjoy the bills that come along–and a beginning kitchen staffs wage.   Never do I begin to question if I am happy doing what it is that I am doing.    

In general life is complex: finding yourself, a career, and working alongside that dang passion that I so often talk about is also hard.   Add that together and you got yourself quite the puzzle.  Student loans are also a reality.  

Is it possible to do both, hustle at both. Pursue a longing and long term desire, and to maintain that professional self.  It can happen it just takes time and right now is a great time for change. And of course a perfect example of that change was Tuesday nights Presidential Election.

OBAMA 08!

Lets step away from food for just a second…Hope-Change-Pride

Can we talk about how electric this new change is? Obama IS our President elect.  Our votes counted and in record numbers we proved that we as a nation of immigrants, nationalists, socialists, democrats, republicans…yadda yadda you get my gist.  WE DID IT and the whole world was watching!

You know what this feels like??? It feels like sunshine.  The soundtrack to this day is some beautiful Rocksteady soundtrack. Can you actually feel it? How beautiful was it to see him hold his daughters sweet little hand-Right behind him,  his wife alongside his eldest’.  Lights flickering–walking down that blue isle–and that deep deep breath…

Now thats lightning.  What an awe inspiring reaction…I got tingles I got chills I got this feeling of pride and love deep inside and all over me that night.  Total goosebumps.  It was so o just be in a room full of such different and progressive individuals that all applauded and believed in this momentous day.

As a minority, as the child of immigrant parents–I too am am immigrant, I definitely can’t forget that. Ohh can you see just how lovely this is!?  Can you feel the sunshine and the glee in the air. Oh the rush of those tremendously loyal believers in Chicago last night. This morning I woke up and typed in “President Obama”, it was then it really hit and I started to tear up   The air today is THICK with excitement, but also there is a total buzz of relaxation.  

Can you imagine how rad it would be to cook for this family? Im thinking about what I would make–what his daughters would like to eat and probably the access to food that I would have if I could cook for that family.  I would make something warm, hearty, delicious, comforting, new, and very Tina.  See I stepped away from food for just a second. It’s a very bright day.


83306963CC398_Barack_Obama_

Apples and Oranges.

Look…it isn’t glamorous who said it ever was. Today I sliced my finger. In an earlier post I had wrote about the beauty of a Berkel slicer and how the fat was “glistening” as I was slicing Salamis—Well today my finger felt what it was like to be a salami. Not as tantalizing as a savory piece of salami eh? But, I knew it would be for a good story.

Artistically I can say that the red was a deep red…a very deep concentrated berry red that dribbled down my finger–a deep blood red–almost like concentrated pomegranate. My chef whites acted like a blank canvas for the crimson red. Like a Jackson Pollock it unconsciously splattered all over my apron.

It all started with a hum. A Lykke Li song. When I slice I like to get into a rhythm and condense my thoughts into my own world, so that could immerse myself and concentrate on my immediate task. Happily humming along I was witness to my first finger slice! Something must have happened, another random thought must have weaved it’s way through my concentration. So I fumbled.

Oddly enough I HEARD the cut before I even felt it. It was like…well it sounded more like–Remember wood shop? It sounded like wood with a bit of pressure against the viciously moving saw blade . “HOLY (something)” — I proclaimed, as I grabbed my thumb and scrunched my face.. I think the cut was on a 1.5…so that means it was moderate. But, give me 2-3 more centimeters an it could have been a doooozy. Oh when I think of that sound it immediately takes me back to wood shop–at least there I never cut anything off. I did however, make a very beautifully detailed bird clock with a charming little heart.

I sqeeeeeeazed my precious thumb as if I were saying “I LOVE YOU DONT LEAVE ME!” My adrenaline was pumping…I had not felt the pain yet…and I remember the pressure.

My sous chef ran over and automatically knew what had happened…luckily “it wasn’t that bad”. Sure it wasn’t thaaaat bad but I would say I sliced a good portion of the end of my thumb almost off. The adrenaline lead me to a dark laugh that lead to a twisted joke to make everyone around me laugh. My sous (bless her heart) grabbed a kitchen rag and told me to “Go and sit in the dry storage…hold your hand above your head…apply pressure and don’t stop till the blood has lessened”… Chef came down and told me that he thought I was surely crying. “Your a strong girl”…and tried to calm my nerves. I was okay–I think. OH was my adrenaline pumping, my heart was beating and my leg was shaking. I just kept thinking about the rapidly turning slicer…and how much more could have been taken off. I kept on humming that song in my head.

I also noticed a bin of Romano beans. I also remember on the menu “Slow cooked Romano Beans”. I asked Chef, “how are those cooked?”. Two ibuprofens, 4 band-aids and one of those latex glove finger things and I was set. I went back to slicing and finishing up the prep for my station.

You know when I first stated I was hesitant to become a cook, I hesitated because of my mother. She cautioned me of the knicks, the cuts, the burns, the everything. My first burns came from baking cakes, or turkeys in the ovens, and, I still have the scars on my arms to prove it. I’ve splattered oil in my eye, frying eggrolls, or just being nosey–while watching my mother cook I would try to peak through the lids of a bubbling pot and burn my fingers. All this hurt…It’s intensified now. It’s no longer Mamma’s Kitchen.

This incident tonight reminded me of a few moments from my past. Like when I had my first wisdom teeth pulled. By the way, I was fully awake and conscious for the event . A couple of numbing shots of Novocaine and a few moments (more like hours) later I would experience my first traumatizing blood splatter–right ALL OVER the dentist’s pristine whites; that same bright red on his jacket was on my apron tonight. It also reminded me of PACO the parrot. Michelle, my hometown friend told me not to pet this bird…”harmless”, I thought. WRONG. That thing bit off a slice of my middle finger, and a straight line of splotches and splatters ran down those white mini blinds. It was as if I had taken a paint brush–dipped it heavily in paint–raised it behind my head and with momentum and a thrust whipping it onto the white blinds.

Apples slice differently than oranges. Sometimes you do not, need a sharp knife to cut through the crisp skin of an apple…but when cutting through the rough exterior into the flesh of an orange you need a sharper knife…well lets say a tomato. Sometimes it takes an extremely sharp blade to cut through something so delicate even though it’s skin is so thin, because any unnecessary pressure would bruise your produce. When you cut a finger it’s always better to cut with a sharp blade to lessen the pain. Well a sharp knife in general is ALWAYS a good thing to have. Just moments before I cut my finger I sharpened the Berkel.

Muy Facile…

There is so much that I am usually passionate about but nothing compares to my love for food taste and flavor. The whole plethora of taste and the wonderful senses that sometimes nearly levitates you.

It’s like love.

I find that passion with each kitchen that I have had the opportunity to come across. The sometimes stoney high that you can get from smelling the sweet wood smoke from the brick oven that turns out rich and moist roasted chickens, with their white linen table clothes and jazz fillng the air. The clean and casual smell of fresh fish that mimics the smells of the ocean only to be found in a very small boutique sushi restaurant. The loud ambiance and rush of smells that rush at you when you enter one of san francisco’s punk rock urban Italian ghetto dining spots. The corporate streamlined chaos of a kitchen filled with every South American male within reach, the white linen clothes, and the loud crowds. The RUSH THE RUSH THE RUSH!

Every kitchen has its different rush and I am excited and maybe a bit hesitant to see whats to come. I remember reading one of Anthony Bourdain’s books when he explains the kitchen like a beautiful dance, and well at the salad stations when things can get slow and the saute guys are sweating profusely, the grill guys are supposed to cook the meat Justttt right the pasta guy, to the guy that has to plate alll of the salumis ( thats me sometimes) hey…so far the salad kids have it easy. I’m learning every second that I’m there.

Sometimes when I get off of work I smell like salumis. I spend my days at this Italian restaurant slicing various salami’s and salumis. Difference? A salami is a dried sausage stick, salumis are really all cold cuts and cured meats! That’s how I get it. Sometimes my fingers are blackened from picking and choppin cured black olives, sometimes they take on the bright red qualities from the roasted beets that I peel and slice.  Sometimes unattractively they smell like vinegar when I continuously toss salads with my hands all day, and all of this I truly find invigorating.   When I am at the station–It’s a total sensory experience.  That beautiful tactile experience you get when you make a simple crudo plate or when you can feel the glistening fat off a piece of mortadella. The gentle touch to a salad, being careful not to bruise the leaves.

The other day I learned that my first investment in a kitchen knife wasn’t sharp enough, after I sharpened the knife the sound of slicing a scallion was completely different. This is what I mean by sensory. You adapt to so many things in the kitchen…once you experience the good you never want to go back. Now I want to sharpen my knife whenever my ears tell me to.

My ears also allow me to listen to the tunes that are playing, swimming through my mind with whatever task  that’s in the kitchen.  I will hum the tune of Julieta Vinegas in one kitchen,  while another it could be the buzz of Stereolab, and while slicing salumis I could be using that Berkel to the catchy rythym of the Ramones. The other day I couldn’t get this particular Spits song out of my head.  My mornings breakfast and baking cravings and dinner nights could be played alongside a soundtrack of Nirvana, The Smiths, or a streaming Podcast of lovely classical music.

I am passionate about food because words cannot simply express what it is that I feel deep inside when I adapt to my kitchen environment. I am passionate about food because when I first came into contact with my favorite pasta maker we connected through broken Spanish, and mainly body language.

No No…Muy Facile” he told me when I became to rough with the pasta… Gentle Gentle...

He was a kind kind man with who reminded me of a Latin American Luigi.  He had a bit of a belly, slightly curly dark hair and that signature upper mustache of the Mario Brothers clan.  “PARP-PARR-DEHL-LEH!” He would explain…“RAH-VEE-OHH-LOH” it was as if an Italian soul was locked inside him. From him I learned the gentle hand of a not so rough man. We barely could comprehend one another but eye contact smiles and simple words, we forged a silent bond that was inspiring to me.

Sweetness and Desire.

 

picking herbs

My father passed ( GOD I miss him) a few years ago and I have so many beautiful memories of him. He would laugh tirelessly to the three stooges, Gilligan’s Island, and to I love Lucy.  I often will replay that boisterous and roaring laugh over and over, in good times and bad.  His laugh would shake a room and to this day rivet my heart. He was also a man of great mystery who failed to say many words, but when he did I would often listen intently to the fables and sweet folklores of my Vietnamese heritage.
From him I gained patience. He stood tall beneath that 5’6 frame and I was proud to have him as my jolly father.  I wasn’t always proud of his car though. He drove a 1979 Toyota Celica, and then a 1981 Toyota Celica–both hatchbacks. He had a black head full of voluminous hair, ears that protruded from his kind face. His smile could still bring to me such a feeling of pride, that it aches my heart to think he ever left.

He was tanned from the natural melamine that ran through his Cambodian bloodline. He had the cheeks of a wisest elder, and the smile of that Jolly good luck Buddha. There are so many memories of him–

My mother would get mad at him if he slept in the same clothes after work, and it was worst if he didn’t shower.  He would marinate the sheets and blankets with the sweet and savory smells of the donut fryer. He was a baker through the later parts of his life. He did so tirelessly and sometimes it seems endlessly.   I never knew how hard he worked. We owned a bakery– DONUTLAND.  I spent most of my early childhood behind the counter of the shop, still sometimes hearing the ding ding ding of the cash register.   Whenever I pass by a donut shop (not just any bakery) I am often reminded of the sweet and melting shortening smell of the deep fryer.   The wonderful hints of cinnamon from the donut crumbles, the saccharine sweetness of the frosting that was ladled onto the glaze donuts.

Nowadays I look forward to walking pass a donut shop peering inside to find an Asian American immigrant behind the counter. The sunlit warmth of the smell becomes somewhat aroma-therapeutic and the visual images let me imagine their immigrant story.  No no NO! my mom would not allow my father to take a nap in the bed because of the strong odors that would sew themselves through the threads of his clothing and skin crocheting themselves with the delightful smells of the bakery.  And of course the sometimes not so delightful smells of the exhaust fumes filling the 1979 Toyota hatchback

“PROOFING” my first lesson from my dad the baker. “That’s when the dough rises–” Yeast water flour and time in the very humid proofer…wait…actually he would usually have to proof the dough overnight on the bakers table. I lovvvvvvvved tippy toeing up to the bakers table peeking at that oversized lump of dough that almost resembles a very yeasty bready smelling blob. It usually formed an outer crust when not kept under a moist towel…that gave me an excuse to pick at the scablike crust. Oh and of course POPPING the dough. Punching it in and releasing its air. I never realized just how much i remembered about the Donut making process.

Imagine this—suburban town that was mainly blue-collar, Latinos and Caucasians. We were one of the very few South East Asian families in the area. A donut shop tucked away on a corner hidden behind a major freeway vein. Hot dry days, and the next town over sprinkled with empty fields once smothered with cows and farmland.  There a little donut shop DONUT LAND was sandwiched between Victors Cleaners and Clover Insurance. Before you walk in there is a little girl feeding the birds, a woman who steps out of a 1981 white Buick Skylark with Tupperware bins filled with food, and a smiling husband opening the door to welcome her. So sweet, so cute. This is something that still visually haunts me

Pink interior…bad pink…pink donut boxes (your standard), a 5 column/ 4 tiered display of various donuts—pink ones, blueberry ones, brown ones, croissants, muffins, the works! A standard 6 burning coffee maker, a two sliding door fridge, and an ice-cream fridge that held about 8+ barrels of ice-cream.  I was surrounded by sweets!   The whole operation was fairly spacious. Spacious enough to let me rollarskate around.  My father worked a lot and I fear that it was what lead him to an early goodbye. I can’t even say if I ever heard him complain.   Sometimes when I feel like I’ve worked endlessly for hours I usually compare the work time with what my father had to deal with, and it helps me with gaining a different perspective to a career.

When I work in a kitchen it is not only to satisfy my daily desire to hone a craft but to pay homage to a man that has given me so much strength. He was the one that taught me to sauté and what a stir fry was, that if you put cornstarch into beef then it makes for a moist and succulent beef stir-fry. Steak with A-1 was “Ngong wa”….Soooo good. He loved my cooking, he would say “No body makes a turkey like Tina” he loved my pastas he loved my roasted chickens and he loved all the cakes I made. He was able to let me experiment in the bakery with various fillings for the donuts. I could fry, form, and glaze anything I wanted to. He taught me how to unroll a frozen croissant to stretch it out lightly, then roll cheddar and ham into it, he taught me how to scoop a good ice cream cone, how to ring someone up, how to plop a donut into the fryer, and of course how hot a donut gets when you don’t let it cool off.

With this I learned that those simple virtues have also embedded themselves through myself, and as I look back without too much holding on I hope those key moments will enable me to become the woman who my children will someday admire.

The patience and intelligence and nurture that is available in the kitchen can become a meditative process.  A process that has been instilled within me since my early days listening and watching my father work. I want to be wonderful and classic just like him. Just like my mother. I want my laughter to ring through a room and shatter darkness.

When I chop garlic, I think of how he would chop garlic. When I was at Zuni the other day chopping garlic I could feel him behind me guiding my knife. The last dream I had of my father, we were being chased by Karl Lagerfield, hopping fences and running through rounds of ammunition, and like superheroes we kicked jumped rolled and ran through the tireless night. I never wanted that night to end. But the night before I had a  dream that we were in a small kitchen my hand touching his cheek telling myself that this must be a dream and him just affectionately smiling at me. I woke up.

I love you DAD!