Friday, October 9, 2009

a little about me.

I've always had a thing for the kitchen.  It could possibly be the domestic X chromosome in play, but then I was never keen on playing House so much as playing what I called, Restaurant.  My memories of this start when I was maybe 10 years old.  I would fold looseleaf or construction paper in half and write up a menu.  And yes, I charged too.  A dime for eggs (scrambled or fried!), a penny for juice, a nickel for french toast...  My customers were plentiful.  Four younger brothers!  The eldest of the four would usually have to unhappily treat the rest.

Other times, my parents taught me how to make homemade wontons.  My brother, Laibond and I used to fold them into funky shapes before dropping them into the boiling stock.  I must boast that mine always came out better looking than his malformed attempts at sculpture.

As I got older, my mother granted me permission to use the oven by myself for the first time.  Prior to that, the closest I could get would be to make Betty Crocker instamix brownies with my uncle or dad.  Using the recipe on the back of Post's Banana Nut Crunch cereal one happy adolescent evening, I made my first baked good from scratch.  Delicious banana bread!  It was a magical moment taking the fresh, golden crusted bread out of the oven.   I remember it well.  I was so proud.  By this time though, my brothers refused to pay for my so-called "restaurant" when I was clearly just using groceries that our own parents bought for the house.  And so, those lucrative restaurant days ended.

I learned various small tricks and recipes through the years, like how you should mix corn starch in a separate small bowl of cool water before putting it into the rest of the dish so it won't clump up, or spring rolls from my Vietnamese babysitter, or things like my favorite Thai dish Ladna from my dad.  Then I learned many more small tricks in the kitchen from experience, friends, or my own research.  Back in college, friends definitely benefit from this hobby and experimentation (I'd like to think my friends still benefit presently too.  Free food!).  I'm still far from being close to professional, but I've long since upgraded from fried eggs or french toast.   My joy of cooking has never faltered since those early childhood days.

The starving artist.  No one wants to be that.  Back in the day, I don't remember the concept of a celebrity chef or things like Food Network being a hit among popular culture.  Being a chef?  Whoa, let's just go major in Art History or English while we're at it.  Not something to consider as a career at the time.  Asian parents?  Definitely not gonna fly.  I'd like to say my parents are more liberal than that, but back when I was deciding my major, I acutely remember my dad flipping out when I said I wanted to pursue graphic design (I was also very much into the arts and figured the digital version was more acceptable).  I'm stubborn and I might verbally refuse, but my dad's opinion has much more sway on my actions than he seems to know.  I ended up in Journalism & Mass Communications, what I thought was a decent compromise between something "ludicrous" like English Lit and something "decent" like Finance.  I have some regrets about that decision too, but what can you do.  Life.

As for food, I always figured it would have to be on the backburner in terms of a career until I was 40, when I had enough capital, maturity, and experience to open my own joint.  However, in 2006 and at 22-23 years old, my father contacted me with a fortunate opportunity to fly back to Hong Kong and team up to open our first F&B outlets.  I dropped what I was doing, dropped my job, left my boyfriend and friends and leaped at my dream that came sooner than I thought.

I loved it and knew for sure, long before I have to hit 40, that this is my passion.  Unfortunately though, I was thrown into the deep end fast.  My father is a keen and successful businessman with much knowledge to impart, but the F&B industry is a different animal.  Some business wisdom and tricks carry forward through every industry, but there were simply some things we might have handled better if there wasn't such lack of experience in this particular playing field on both our parts.  Thankfully though, besides through hard work and a LOT of capital, luck also played on our side.  Things didn't tank.  In some cases, quite the opposite!

But luck isn't always enough.  I am back in New York now, looking to get a proper education and foundation in this industry.  Ideas and excitement are spilling at the brim, but it's one pricey canvas.  I don't want to just guess and hope every so often on the next restaurant I work on.  I want to do it with a Daniel Boulud kind of confidence.

[ deleted paragraphs ] There have been a number of obstacles in the meantime, and while for the first time ever, I almost felt like giving up.  Too bad I'm too damn stubborn to throw in the towel yet.

I intend to be back in the French Culinary Institute before the year is over.  I will start punching away once more against the wall of Dream Killers.

Otherwise, it's time to scrap the dreams and crawl back to the drawing board.  And that is not the alternative I want to turn back to just yet.

June 2011: Update on what I'm doing now. 


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