Inciting Incident

I lived in my car when I was in my early twenties. This was by choice. I refused to abide by a set of rules demanded of me. I would rather tread in the ocean than frolic safely along the shoreline. I’m not sure when I became this person who lacks a healthy concern for the outcome of a given situation. I guess I secretly had faith in what life had in store for me. Please do not mistake this for some sort of religious revelation. It is far from that. I let go of many restrictions life placed on me and began to say yes to everything and anything that seemed like a worthy opportunity to (not always for) me. On many occasions my “free spirit” led me to some situations that were anything but free.

Regardless, my propensity for living in the moment made me a perpetual admirer. An admirer of all things artistic and the people who create them. Because of this, I know the kind of relationship I will have with someone within the first few encounters.

Or maybe it is just because I spent my life seeking out the talent in strangers in order to keep myself surrounded by all things creative…good or bad.

Fast forward to an event I conducted in February for Old Scratch. This event fell into my lap by a handful of those talented strangers who may or may not have “believed in” me but they were willing to give me the go ahead. A beautiful home. A state of the art kitchen. A crew that showed up. Twelve guests who were promised a memorable evening. Five courses of food that were perfectly paired by a talented sommelier I had accumulated in my collection of strangers. A defining moment of truth. All my talk put to the test.

The entire evening is a blur to me now. Not because I have forgotten about it but because I was treading. Incidentally, the lovely owner of the house wanted to showcase every piece of China in her collection, so I had one eye on the show & tell and one eye on my food—2 hours before the guests were set to arrive. When they arrived they opted out of their designated hors d’oeuvres spot and wandered—they chose to watch the sunset on the beach. The food changed direction and made it down to them anyway. Must be that staff I put so much faith in. Hey I’m an admirer, right? Sent the boyfriend out to fetch all the miscellaneous items I inconveniently forgot. Bartender made me a martini. Oil in the skillet started burning—damn induction stoves.

“Chef, are you ready for us to sit at this beautiful table?”

“Of course! Come, sit” is what came out of my mouth as I discreetly handed off the smoking skillet to be carried outside never to be seen again.

Show time.

Wine. Food. Fluff hair. Check lipstick. Smile. Banter.

Repeat.

Spy Living

We all know the story, man or woman came from nothing and made everything for themselves. They all share a common motto, “never take no for an answer.” Funny that as employers they become the ones who GIVE no for an answer as opposed to TAKING it. And they do it with little to no hesitation. But what happens when we don’t take THEIR no’s? The next round of dreamers who wish to try their hand at “never take no for an answer.” We are told that we need to be reined in and our job begins to sit on a shaky foundation. What is one to do in such a dilemma? Live the American dream: make something for ourselves by behaving like communist spies who must keep our heads down and absorb all the we can from the market in which we wish to excel in.

Roy Choi  has one of my favorite inspirational something-from-nothing stories. I use the word favorite because beyond being talented, he has yet to lose vision of himself in his cuisine. He was raised in a Korean household with the streets of L.A. calling the shots. A respectable culinary gangster, the Dr. Dre of modern cuisine. Every time I am told to reign it in, Roy is the doctor they tell me to go see. A kimichi quesadilla? Come on that only makes sense to…everyone?

He is the first celebrity chef that I have been able to identify my own style with, and on more than one occasion I have found myself caught between sitting in silence as I am taken on his culinary adventure, and  cursing at why I didn’t come up with a certain flavor profile. It is quite the emotional roller coaster.

Going into a kitchen to come  out with a piece of work that you are asking an audience to ingest is a daunting task. Your mission is broken down into:

1.) don’t kill guest

2.) make them smile and yearn for more.

In my own creative ventures I have yet to let down a panel of eager taste buds, but have always had trouble finding an identity in my cuisine and my place in the culinary world. I am an East Indian woman who was born in Chicago, raised in Los Angeles, and I’m the only creative creature in my entire family. I went to school to be a teacher and now am the catering director for one of the leading business women in the Downtown Financial District of L.A. And every evening I take the train home to my home kitchen to work on my creative calling. It is when my day truly begins.

So how to I make the jump from employee to employer? I don’t take no for an answer but I also have to  make sure I keep it reined in at the job. Basically, I behave like a Bond girl. Distracting the employer (007) with her good looks and charm. As he utilizes her to deceive rival intelligence agents and infiltrate enemy compounds, he realizes too late that she’s been a double agent in her own right, a spy self-employed by her heart’s desires. By then, 007 is on the wrong side of “NO.”

Just for you

I treated myself to dinner tonight, a chic little French cafe near my house. Butter, potatoes, butter, meat, butter, gravy, butter. Soaked it up with some brilliantly baked bread. Washed it down with a red that I was told to pair it with. The French showed us the art in our survival. Their technique forms the perfectly decadent bite. A bite made just for you. Just for this moment. Something that cannot be denied. They taught us how to fall in love with our food. The ultimate comfort food. They change nothing, there is never a spin on it, no one dabbles in the French fusion. Why? Because you’ll come back to it. No matter how far you stray. You will not, you cannot deny its perfected execution.

The Love Grit

It is a gritty love story, between the secrets behind the flavors that create those smiles of appreciation and the operations of the business. Operations will always get in the way of the artist’s vision, but without it the artist will stay cooking in a kitchen for no one.

When I create in my kitchen I go into a deep emotional state. I develop flavors that linger in my soul. Flavors that don’t belong together. Flavors that want to be given the chance to love each other in one simmer, one stir, one smile. Your smile. Smile for me.

And every morning I wake up to go to my day job. My job of pretending like I am in the business of smiles. Pretending like I couldn’t make you smile on my own. Pretending that my smiles belong to the operations. As long as I accept that I have no value or say in the operations I am allowed to not feel so defeated in my desire to flourish in the name of food. This is the nature of the restaurant business when the business is not your own.

Old Scratch’s Playground

I follow the Foodnetwork like it is a religion, and read food blogs as the passages of my faith. I discovered my spirituality in food and spirits in my early twenties. Which came to a surprise to my family. I was known as the Kraft Mac n Cheese gal. I wouldn’t even splurge for the Velveeta Shells and Cheese. That was just too high end for me.

I have always had a love affair with learning, and that is how I discovered the culinary arts. I started studying the food itself, then different cultures and spices. Once my palate had an understanding of the mechanics to a meal, my imagination came to play.

I don’t use the word “foodie” in my regular vocabulary. The reason for that is, we all eat, the world is made up of “foodies.”  We, as a people, regardless of race, religion, gender, are constantly considering what to eat (or not eat) at some point of every day. Not to sound insensitive but, even anorexics are foodies, they have to make an effort to not think about food. The term “foodie” creates an elitist tribe of people who, what? Is some how qualified to enjoy food more than another person would? Spends more money on eating out? Knows how to use the camera on their smart phone? No, I’m not a foodie. Food is an inclusive component, not an exclusive one. We eat together. I want to be the medium that is creating those habits, memories, travels and happiness that comes from the act of eating.

You know that show, Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives? Or to the fans, DDD? Guy Fieri does more than show you a place that has good food, he talks to the people who love to eat at those places. He asks about the memories, and then he becomes a part of its history. I keep track of the local places he has been to, and the boyfriend and I go on our own culinary road trip using Guy’s map and a Ford Fiesta instead of a fire red Camaro.

Every location we have visited we make sure to talk to the owner and their experience with Guy. In most cases, Guy is largely responsible for their livelihood. Why? Because he shared his love for what they are doing with the world. And through his salivations, we salivated. How many of you knew how to brine anything before you saw the many different pork butt’s being brined all across the country? How many of you even knew that brining was part of the delicious process?

Inclusivity.

You don’t know me, and I’m not asking you to know me. I’m asking you to let me let you into my world of culinary imagination and to stay awhile. The food will be created from a place close to the chest, with the intent of making you want more. A devilish playground, where Old Scratch stirs the pot with his bare hands allowing us to dine sinfully.

How it all got started

Is there a word that describes the culinary embodiment of Motown? Because that would be my answer when people ask me what I like to cook. It is all in the rhythm and blues, baby. The rhythm and blues and cumin and garlic. And don’t forget the bacon, oh yeeeaaah, the bacon baby. Don’t you feel it? Feel it movin’ your hips, warming your soul, making you smile? That is what I like to cook.

This journey started just shy of two years ago when I met the Vanilla to my Chocolate. Great combo, right? We all love a good swirl. He was so polished, went well with everything, had the style and the show, but he lacked the flavor. That’s where I came in. I’m all flavor. Forget the show. Forget the stage.

Tonight you’re mine, completely, you give your love so sweetly, tonight the light of love is in your eyes…but will you love me tomorrow? 

Motown, baby, ya dig? But he didn’t love me tomorrow. In fact, he just wasn’t that into me. But he couldn’t let me go, cause I’m the flavor. But flavor didn’t make it to his show. There is always a place for Vanilla. Just not in my place, not in the culinary crossroads that is:

Image