I’m a self taught cook. Like many of my fellow cooks, cooking wasn’t something that I thought about growing up. Sure I managed to fry an egg or two or make the occasional pasta, I never thought cooking would be a crucial part of my life.
Ten years ago, I was a producer for TV news in a top ten media market and I’d spent years to get there – working my way up from being a warm body on the graveyard shift and hopping up the ladder from one job to another in Philly, Boston and New York City. It’s funny to me now that my very first gig was producing a cable television show called City Cuisine that featured DC as a global food town. This was WAY before Food Network. Things might have been VERY different if that show had taken off. heh.
You know what changed my life? What turned me on to food? It was a TV show.
The Japanese cooking show “Iron Chef” came to America with terrible English translations and was first shown on then relatively new Food Network. Though campy, and only aired late at night, it quickly gained a cult following.
Unlike American game shows, there’s a whole back story. The fictional “host” named Chairman Kaga, who collected a team of “Iron Chefs” who would take on all challengers from around the world in battles of culinary supremacy. It was the campiest and greatest food show of its time. The lavish costumes, the exotic ingredients, the outlandish techniques all combined to make this show a food wonderland. I felt like Alice. I was hooked.
Chairman Kaga and the Iron Chefs completely changed the way I saw food. It was a Cole Trickle moment (Yes, deep cut movie reference). It’s amazing how much you can learn watching the likes of Michiba, Morimoto, and Sakai practicing their craft on television. Before this, I didn’t know what bonito flakes were. I thought miso soup came in a box!
It wasn’t just lessons in techniques and theory. It was also a history lesson of who’s who and what’s what in the culinary world. Yes. Iron Chef the Japanese cooking show taught me about Paul Bocuse, Tour D’Argent and Kyoto style cuisine. I didn’t learn everything from the show, but suffice to say that it definitely gave me the red pill about food.
From then on I was obsessed. I read everything I could get my hands on: Escoffier, McGee, Rhulman, Bourdain you name it. In my spare time I chopped mirepoix to practice knife skills (still shoddy) and made stock as often as I could. I still remember the first time I tried to cook my way through the French Laundry cookbook. Ha
For a Chinese kid whose parents owned a Chinese-American restaurant, you’d think that I’d have some great grounding in food and food culture, but aside from gorging myself on my mom’s homemade dumplings, my interactions growing up with food were meaningless. I didn’t roll out meatballs with my grandmother. I didn’t trot along with my parents as they went to open up their restaurant every morning. I didn’t learn to stir-fry late at night while the chef made family meal.
It took a Japanese game show to open my eyes, and my mouth, to all the awesomeness of food culture.
What about you? What inspired your love of food?