I grew up in kitchens. My interest in all things culinary began from a stool, gazing over our kitchen counter at home in Miami, where my mother ran a local catering business. The small but capable space was outfitted with commercial-grade equipment, like a salamander grill and a freakishly large refrigerator with four doors made of glass so you could see what was inside. There was even a set of shiny copper pots and pans hanging over a gas range. And in the pantry, there was everything a cook could need to whip up almost anything at a moment’s notice. If things weren’t too busy on a job, I’d sometimes get lucky and be able to help out with kid-friendly tasks, like rolling cheese-covered grapes in chopped walnuts. As I got older, I would often cook my own creations inspired from things I had seen made at home or had tried in restaurants. At 13, I went to Napa Valley and dined at French Laundry. When mom opened up a restaurant in town with a well-known chef, I was st
ill in high school, so I made regular after-school visits, gliding through the maze of empty tables in the dining room, hushed in silence before opening, through the back of the house during family meal and then upstairs to the office where the business side operated. It’s where I met Julia Child and where we spent many nights dining, sometimes celebrating special occasions. I marveled at the creativity coming out of that kitchen, where new world and old world met in harmony on the plate, with new ingredients and techniques presented in classical ways. It also gave me a global perspective early on that fueled a curiosity to travel to the countries that inspired these dishes.
My first time overseas, to Spain one summer, was eye-opening. As vibrant as the click of the Flamenco dancer’s heel. The gardens and colorful tile-lined courtyards of the Alhambra. Fresh, pink Gazpacho as smooth as silk. The pungent smell of just-caught sardines marinating in my home-stay family’s kitchen. The black Majorcan beaches, gravel-like sand prickly under the arches of my feet. Miro’s geometric compositions in primary colors. The spires of the Gaudi cathedral, towering so high that you took five vertical photos to capture the facade. When I traveled abroad my junior year of college to Florence, I was determined to be a sponge for all things Italian. First on the list was signing up for classes in regional Italian cooking and wine at my host university, to truly understand and learn to appreciate the origins of traditional dishes and ingredients. When out of the kitchen, I also immersed myself in the local culture and cuisine, visiting specialty food shops and vineyards in the outlying areas. I returned to Miami with an undergraduate degree in English to begin a career in public relations, always trying to squeeze in teaching kids cooking classes at a friend’s cooking school on the side. I saw the same delight in their faces, as I am sure my mother saw in mine when I was a child first experimenting in the kitchen. But my culinary horizons exploded when I moved to New York in pursuit of an opportunity to hone my communications skills at a multinational PR firm. The big city’s latticed boulevards and quaint tree-lined streets contained diverse neighborhoods, each packed with signature cuisines and mysterious people from exotic lands. From street food to fine dining, the world was forever transformed into infinitely complex layers of flavor, smell and texture. 2009 was a crazy year. In February, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I began this blog because I was bored and didn’t know what to do with myself except that I wanted something to do and an outlet to express my creativity. I followed my passions, and what felt most comfortable. Food and writing. It led me to Miami New Times, and a kind editor who took in a stray that needed work and a lot of journalistic grooming. A daily contribution to its food blog, followed, as did an opportunity to write for the weekly newspaper, even penning a couple of dining reviews and an award-winning cover expose on Kobe beef mislabeling in South Florida restaurants. And, it led me to Michael Schwartz and a new kitchen to love, of the genuine kind.