The Food? It’s all I’ve ever known. My first glimpse of a memory was the taste of a scallion mom gave me to ease a growing tooth. How helpful was it? Not really! I gave it back. The rest is a whirl of steam, cilantro, and typical Ecuadorian foods. When my family lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, my Mother entertained our entire family practically every Sunday. She and my grandmother came home from work to make sure we all got a hot meal. I didn’t grow up eating fast food ( that was a rare treat).
I started my young adult life full of exuberance and the “making a difference” complex. I wanted my life to mean something and so I decided that being a doctor was the best way for me to do that. Enter sophomore year of HS where I interned at Bellevue hospital for three years translating Spanish and Portuguese. My first day took me to the elusive F wing, which to my surprise was where they kept the mentally ill patients. Long story short, the patient threatened to kill us all and jump out of a window, which I translated, verbatim, and excused myself to run crying down the hall to the elevator.
I went back. Spent most of my time in the OB/GYN ward, which is the specialty I was so looking forward to enter. My senior year brought about many changes, including a swift left turn. I was going to be a Chef. Trying to tell my mother turned out to be a giant cluster f*ck full of pain, resentment and overall sadness. She couldn’t get why i wanted to do this and I couldn’t explain that I would probably end up a suicide from all of the heartache I has already seen and more to come in the future.
I did an early admissions application, it was all sink or swim for me. I worked at Dean and Deluca and started experimenting with food, trying to get a handle of the kitchen I loved but never really got to know. I dabbled, trying to make meals with my childhood best friend Monique that always cheered by clapping vigorously when edible things were set down in front of her. We focused mostly on breakfast items and traditional cheese empanadas covered in sugar (yes, this is totally weird but so delicious!) with hot chocolate.
My acceptance letter arrived in January and I was overjoyed, until I got to the bottom of the letter… I needed to have 6 months worth of kitchen experience in order to be fully accepted. My heart sank. I was 16 and didn’t know how I was going to accomplish this at my age with no experience getting a kitchen job was going to be a hardship. I decided that my best course of action was to volunteer, free labor will prevail. I got the sunday Times and circled all the hotel and restaurant ads I could find. I mailed 50 copies of a letter explaining my situation, what I needed and how willing I was to work for FREE!
Three weeks later I received one response. One. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, and completed my 6 month requirement. Side note: I was miserable. The chef hated me and made me cry every day. Told me I wouldn’t be able to finish. I promised to visit him and rub my diploma in his face… when I graduated I went to the restaurant but it was no longer there, karma I guess.
Graduating from the Culinary Institute of America was an incredible accomplishment. Mom had come around and was even learning cooking tips from me! I was ready to take on the world and landed my first job at Tavern on the green.
After a year on the job I had my daughter, my greatest accomplishment ever. I moved around after that from restaurants to catering companies, learning and growing. I even worked with the Board of Education in New York for their School Food division. That place really taught me the ins and outs of budgets, deadlines, codes, chain of command, and general looking good while you wing it sometimes!
The Winds of change swept through my life again and blew me across the river into New Jersey where I now live. I was an instructor for Star Career Academy for three years which was an incredibly rewarding experience, imparting what I have learned over the years to a younger and sometimes older generation of people that just want to make great food!
Today I am using my culinary skills and combining them with my love for the Goddess, Witchcraft and my passion for writing.
Stay Tuned for the next post!
Picture credit : Bon Appetit