Friday, June 24, 2011

When life gives you lemons...

It's been more than two years since I visited my own blog. But, then again, it's been an incredible time none-the-less. If it wasn't for the Recession of 2009, I'd probably still be sitting miserably at my cubicle, at 4 Times Square, daydreaming about my next great bite.

Back then, I ate out a lot. The New York food scene was unlike anything I'd ever tasted. I grew up in Los Angeles and went to college in Irvine, CA, so my access to lofty culinary experiences were few and far between. My work-a-holic parents -- big supporters of Costco and chain restaurants -- raised us on Maruchan Instant Lunch cup-o-noodles and, offered us McDonald's chicken nuggets and french fries as a before dinner "snacks." My younger brother and I were so round that we could've easily stood in as poster children for childhood obesity.

To sum it up: eating was never a problem for me. 

But, when I came to Manhattan and discovered Grimaldi's pizza, Pomme Frites' french fries, Ippudo ramen, the Wylie dog at PDT, and frozen foie gras at Momofuku Ko, my taste buds were on overdrive. I couldn't get enough. Before New York, eating was something I did just to the pass time. It was never something artistic. But, now, I realized that food could transport me. It could remind me of summers in my grandmother's kitchen. Or, in the case of my fiance and his family, food could remind them of Indonesia, a homeland thousands of miles away. It represented traditions passed down from generation to generation. In a nutshell, food is culture. (pun intended)

So, with my new found hunger, I spent all my free time voraciously researching restaurants. Devouring industry news on Eater; reading reviews from The NY Times, Time Out NY, Grubstreet; following chefs and food writers on Twitter. I was obsessed. But, even though I was blissfully filling myself with all this knowledge and all my friends referred to me a "foodie," I still felt like a poser.

Then, my good friend, Tae, started working at one of the hottest restaurants in New York's East Village. He started as a food runner then moved his way up to mixologist. Hearing about his crazy stories and star sightings was like opening Pandora's box. It gave me the behind-the-scenes peek I always wanted. But, the kitchen was still such a mystery.

However, one lunch changed that forever.

During the 2008 restaurant week, two of my co-workers from The New Yorker and I went to Park Avenue Winter. We ordered the chef's tasting menu and began commiserating about the state of publishing.

Two bites into our appetizers, someone asked the inevitable question: "If the shit hits the fan, what are you going to do next?" My newly engaged co-worker to my right said that she'd always dreamed about being an interior designer. The co-worker to my left, who was dating someone from the editorial department, couldn't think of where she'd want to go next. Then, it was my turn. What did I want next?

To cook.

That's all I wanted to do -- cook. I wanted to work with my hands. Learn more about food.

Then, the economy really shook everyone up, even the big wigs at our building. Rumors swirled on Gawker that even Vogue, the pinnacle of fashion decadence, was considering a "bargain buy" shoot. At The Monocle, we thought we were invincible. The cutbacks wouldn't touch us. After all, the magazine was the owner's precious "crown jewel." We were wrong.

Our publisher, one of the greatest men I have ever met, was swiftly sent to revitalize the company's floundering digital department. He was the type of guy who knew everyone's name. From the company CEO to the midnight cleaning crew. Everyone loved him. But, before he could announce his resignation, his replacement, aka the Devil wears Talbots, stormed into the conference room and announced to the staff that, "You are all losers. This magazine has not been profitable in years. I'm used to being a winner. And, I need an 'A' team. Are you ready to join winners? Oh, and there will be lay-offs... also your old publisher is on speaker phone." My stomach sank. Scared, forlorn faces filled the room. The shit had officially hit the fan.

The very next day, I started researching culinary schools. And, a few months later, I was fully enrolled. I gave my two week's notice with a smile. (Ironically, the same week that I gave my exit interview, Conde Nast stopped publishing Gourmet magazine. A part of me couldn't believe it, the most influential food magazine was gone. But, I was too giddy to dwell on the long-term impact.)

Culinary school was a lot of fun. (which, I'll delve into a little deeper in later posts.) During that time, I staged in several of Manhattan's hottest restaurants (Marea, Annisa, Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park) and finally worked as an Entremetier at Dovetail, a Michelin-star winning restaurant. Although, working under Chef John Fraser, Thomas Keller's protege, was a great experience. It still wasn't enough. At the end of the day, I still thought of myself as a writer. (A writer with severe writer's block.)

Then, about a month ago, as I was charring eggplants on the flattop, it hit me. Do both -- write and cook. I'm going take my former obsessive food researching skills and combine them with my knowledge in the kitchen. I'll start testing recipes, rediscover New York's bountiful food scene and share all my epi-experiences with the world... just one bite at a time.

This first update is dedicated to my friend, Eun!

(Habana Grill in SoHo, June 2011)

I met you a year ago, when I first trailed at Dovetail. You shared stories about your time in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park and helped me find my way down this new path. Thank you for your support, love, and time. I know you'll be a great asset to the wine industry as a master sommelier.

If it wasn't for you, I would never have updated my blog.
Good luck in Korea!

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