remembrance of tastes past…

I do a lot of driving, especially the long-distance kind. During these lengthy road trips, I like to listen to audiobooks. Although it’s not the same as reading the actual book, I do think you get a better understanding of what the author is trying to convey.

Last week, I downloaded Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and began listening to it today. I read the book when it first came out and enjoyed it immensely. Hearing Anthony himself read it out loud offers a perspective vastly different for the written text.

In the book he recalled how, at the tender age of nine, he tasted the first dish that made him realize that food was not just meant to be eaten, but to be thoroughly enjoyed as well.

The dish? It was a bowl of vichyssoise. As he described it, the cold potato-leek soup was a pivotal moment in his life. Later on he would have another moment involving oysters.

This got me thinking about my own culinary epiphanies and realized how fortunate I was to have shared these with other people.  I truly am the sum of all that I’ve eaten.

Here’s a few of my cherished food recollections:

  1. Burgers: my dad went through a phase of making these at home. It holds a special memory for me because I can still his face has he proudly served us the juiciest and flavorful burgers I can remember. He would grill the buns on the same skillet and the edges would get toasted and crispy. Back then, burgers were a treat and my dad’s was most definitely just that..
  2. Caesar Salad: my very first was made by my sister Yoly. At a time when the prevailing choice was iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing, her’s was the real deal. The entire thing was made from scratch—no bottled dressing nor packaged croutons. Mr. Cardini himself would have been proud. She also introduced me to sour cream and chive flavored potato chips—I remember the brand too, it was Laura Scudder’s..
  3. Sushi: my friend Monica invited for sushi and although I never had it before, I accepted. Wanting to impress her, I pretended to be an expert. She quickly discovered my deception when I ate the edamame (boiled soybeans) WHOLE! Deservedly laughing at my expense, she patiently taught me the intricacies of sushi. Now many years later, sushi (mainly nigiri, chirashi, and sashimi) has become on top of favorites list. From this I developed my fondness for raw food: ahi tuna, steak, oysters..
  4. Korean food: the credit goes to Kaliko. Before she came along, all that I knew was kimchi.  Definitely more to the cuisine than just pickled vegetables. Bring on the banchan and soju!.
  5. Lamb: my childhood friend Sylvester’s mom Carol makes the best leg of lamb ever! Having married a Greek surely had an influence on her lamb because it’s full of garlic and oregano. She roasts them on a bed of vegetables—usually potatoes, carrots, and onions. Drippings from the roast caramelizes the veges and magically transforms them into something totally ethereal. The lamb itself is moist, tender, and yes, garlicky..
  6. Plating.: David M. taught me that one truly does eat with the eyes first. I never put much thought into plating before, but now I extol the virtues of the well conceived garnish. It’s amazing how the simple, oft-maligned parsley can transform a boring dish into an an extraordinary one..
  7. Steak: David A. took me to Peter Luger, arguably one of the best steak houses in the country. Definitely the best Porterhouse I have had: buttery soft and required virtually no chewing at all.  And please, no A-1!.
  8. Wine: White Zinfandel was my then choice of wine. My good friend Scott shared a bottle of Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1991 with me and my lips haven’t touched the sugary pink stuff since..
  9. Burrito: my cousin Wayne took me to La Imperial: Hayward, CA’s infamous Mexican joint. It was here I had my very first Super Burrito. True to it’s name, it was as big as my thigh! The food there is great—just don’t look into the kitchen or use the restrooms..
  10. Ethiopian food: in my mid-20’s, my palate was continuously evolving; I was trying everything and anything I can get in to my mouth. My friend Chris invited me to the Blue Nile restaurant in Berkeley, CA. I happily accepted thinking this would be the most exotic (and weirdest) food I would try. Instead, I discovered it wasn’t that exotic at all.  It was elegant without being pretentious, highly spiritual, and above all, tasted wonderfully. One of the (few) times I’m grateful I was wrong.

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Unfortunately, I don’t recall my exact “vichyssoise” moment. I’d like to think that I have had many before and will hopefully have more to come…

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