Savor the World
In the late 1960s, my father was a marketing executive with IBM. His job took him to nearly every continent for weeks at a time. Since phone calls were expensive and e-mail hadn’t yet been put into use, my mother faced a huge challenge. How could she keep three small children occupied and entertained, and more than that, connected to their dad when he was thousands of miles away on business trips?
Always a culinary adventurer herself, she made a decision early on that marked an indelible impression on my palate and steered the course of my life. For every country my father visited, Mom found ways for us to experience that culture with him. She’d make it a point to prepare a special dish that represented the cuisine he might be eating while away from home. Though she spared us the “delicacy” of the fish head soup he ate in Hong Kong, she’d take us to the library to research each country and its native foods. Armed with a list we’d shop for the ingredients together, exploring the international foods and lesser-known spices in the grocery aisles.
At home with our unusual produce and starches, she’d prop the cookbook open on the kitchen counter. Together we’d chop and mince Chinese vegetables or delicate shallots, we’d sear slivered beef in sesame oil or sauté chicken in white wine and butter. We used woks and fondue pots and grill pans long before they were en vogue. We expanded our palates to include the riches of other worlds, all before we reached the ripe old age of 10.
While my friends ate buttered noodles and hamburgers, my brothers and I dined on Asian stir fry and flash-fried rice
noodles in soy glaze. The other kids snacked on boxed mac with fake yellow cheese, and we enjoyed wiener schnitzel with spaetzle and roasted autumn apples.
My mom was, and still is, a wonderful cook with an exceptional palate.
The Cultural Revolution began early in my childhood home, marking my consciousness with a passion for exotic tastes and textures. It’s been two decades since my father stopped traveling overseas, but my mother still follows her own epicurean rule. In turn, I honor her wisdom by doing the same. To this day, I have my mother to thank for my passion for new flavors. It’s a tradition I’ve passed onto my own children, and no doubt, a tradition they’ll pass on to their own children some day.
Never stop experimenting in the kitchen, and always make at least one new recipe a week.