Writing about what feeds me.
What Does My Relationship Look Like? – Part 1
When I moved into the University of Maryland Leonardtown apartments back in 1999 (?!?!), I would always cook late at night and stink up the whole apartment with the smell of garlic. My roommate that lived in the single room always kept his door closed as a result. The last day before we moved out, I offered him some of the stir fry I had made and he commented something along the lines of, ‘Man, if I knew your food was this good, I would’ve never complained about the garlic smell!’ I honestly only knew maybe a total of four dishes that I learned from my Mom and that I really loved. Two of them were spicy tofu with ground pork and Asian-style short ribs with black bean sauce. I also loved Korean food (who doesn’t?!), so I learned to make anything my girlfriend at the time could show me, like how simple it is to make kimchi chi gae. I think back then, cooking served the purpose of independence, self-sufficiency, celebrating and enjoying foods from home and also sharing and relating to other family traditions or cultures (such as my then girlfriend’s Korean heritage).
When I moved to North Hollywood during the tail end of summer 2009, I discovered fresh and cheap California produce – at Mexican supermercados, dollar stores and neighborhood farmers’ markets. I made a point to save money by cooking as much as possible since I could barely afford rent. I started simple: baking chicken with peppers and onions, making my own meatballs and pasta sauce, and experimenting with stews and other dutch-oven dishes. For a brief stint I was a bit obsessed with Kogi, the Korean taco food truck, so I began creating my own versions of their kimchi (hot) dogs and quesadillas. Frequently I would show up to Culture Shock, LA rehearsal with fresh mango or peach salsa, guacamole and a bag of tortilla chips; in the off chance (ha!) that I was a terrible artistic director, at least my dancers would remember that I fed them from time to time. One of my good friends and team captains, Eddie, would throw get togethers at his house and I found it impossible not to show up ready to go full out with the cooking. Breakfast-for-dinner parties became sort of a thing at his place and one time I made burgers from scratch and slow-cooked ribs on his grill while people all around were simply trying to get their drink on. I didn’t care. I was so focused on the food.
To me, cooking had started to become a project and a conversation piece. It was a way to bring people together, to make people happy – including myself. At the time, I was pretty lost and had no idea what I was doing on the west coast, especially for most of the early months after my move. Aside from a few dance gigs, rehearsal and sleeping most of the day away, I wasn’t very occupied, so I came to rely on cooking to fill my time. Trekking over to the Food-4-Less, picking out Roma tomatoes and Haas avocados; finding deals like four bunches of cilantro for 99 cents (!!); chopping vegetables, mincing garlic and thin-slicing ginger (for an easy go-to tilapia marinade); watching the oven timer while my 4-cheese mac finished baking; and even the process of washing dishes and cleaning up became almost a routine for me. It was personal therapy, and it was also a “distraction” – allowing me to temporarily forget that I wasn’t happy with my career (or lack of one) at the time. In the process, however, I discovered how creative cooking was for me. It almost felt like artistic direction: orchestrating, composing, balancing and timing different elements, producing one seamless product. Something colorful, something transformed, something literally full of flavor and something that, after the more I practiced, became easier and easier to create. It was improvisation. It was freestyle. If I stopped long enough to even consider it then, my cooking wasn’t all that different to me than my dancing.
Dancing is my relationship with Music.
Cooking, as I began to discover in those North Hollywood days, is my ever-evolving relationship with Food.
TO BE CONTINUED…