In Korea, one of the highlights at a ddohl (baby’s first birthday party) is for the baby to choose his/her destiny. A number of objects are set before the baby at a ddohl—string which symbolizes long life, money for wealth, pen for academics/writing, and food for good eats. According to my mom, at my ddohl I grabbed the pen and food. It was unclear which item was picked first.
Dunkin’ Donuts. In the summer of my junior year in high school, it was decided that I should get some minimum wage work experience. Since my mom liked Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and the French crullers, she urged me to get a job there, and so I did. I made some killer croissandwiches and even had people coming in for my version of the sandwiches that were available…until they changed management, who insisted on economy over good business practices. Happily I left for summer school by the time the new management took over.
Restaurant Reviewer/Food Columnist, The Phoenix, Swarthmore College newspaper. My friend, Daniel, and I reviewed restaurants in the Philadelphia area and wrote articles on creative ways to enhance one’s cafeteria dining experience. We had quite a following.
Guest Chef, Paces Cafe. Prepared Korean brunch (a 36-hour cooking marathon) and Mexican brunch. At this time I realized, I didn’t like cooking for a horde. It seemed very depersonalized/assemblyline-ish.
Sous Chef, Helen’s Kitchen. My mom is one of the best cooks in the world. I can’t go into a Korean restaurant without thinking, “my mom can do better than that.” She’s such a fantastic cook that she even converted my staunch vegetarian friend to become an omnivore again (but only for Korean meat, says he). I’ve learned a lot from her, my grandmother, and my aunt just by watching.
Baking is something I learned on my own. In college, my mom would send me regular care packages of Frango chocolates of different flavors, coffees, teas, and cocoas. I certainly couldn’t eat/drink everything, so friends would come to my room every night for study break. I would often bake some treats with the Frangos and cocoa. During the holidays when I’d come home, I would bake various pies, cakes, and cookies for the family. It was my unique contribution.
As a mom of child with severe food allergies to dairy, tree nuts, and peanuts, I had to figure ways to provide treats to parties and gatherings so my daughter would not feel left out. Thank goodness, there are many great resources and recipes available.
My approach. I like to use recipes as guidelines and generally add my twist wherever I can. My challenge is to do a better job of recording how I’ve adjusted the recipes, but I think half the fun is making something slightly different each time…for the better, of course. I love reading cookbooks and comparing recipes, as well as learning how and why certain ingredients work well together. I also like to borrow techniques from the master chefs on PBS. I’ve learned a lot from America’s Test Kitchen, Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart, Lidia Bastianich, and more.
(Last updated 1/9/16)