I wholeheartedly believe that when you’re comfortable, you’re not learning. It’s when you push and challenge yourself to try new things — that’s when you grow, through new experiences. I’ve tried to embrace that ethos as much as I can.
Just … trying to fit in … in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Growing up in a food-loving family, my parents’ rule at the dinner table was that although my brother and I didn’t have to eat everything, we had to take at least one bite of every dish on the table. I should explain that my father is a very experimental cook, and I was always the kid in school with weird leftovers for lunch — plates of tandoori chicken, super garlicky pesto and sometimes Szechuan dumplings. So, when I say that Peter and I had to try it all, we’re not talking mac and cheese or steak and potatoes. At the time, my parents’ atypical ways made me feel out of place among my peers. But now, looking back, I am so grateful for all the reasons I didn’t fit in.
Embracing challenge is a notion I live by, and since food and drink are my career, I readily apply that to dining. Whether it’s finding the most authentic Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings, in Los Angeles's San Gabriel Valley area or New York’s Flushing, I am always up for an adventure.
In fact, some of my favorite foods are tucked away within San Gabriel’s endless, dingy, restaurant-filled stripmalls, places where the menu is in Chinese and very few speak any English. Behind the most unassuming of storefronts, I’ve discovered the most flavorful and thin-skinned Xiao Long Bao at Dean Sin World, and the most hypnotically fragrant Szechuan pepper–accented broths at Chengdu Taste. And what about JTYH’s sesame seaweed noodles, and the creamy, steamed milk buns from Newport Seafood?
For me, dining, drinking and travel are inextricably linked, and I choose to learn about the world and other cultures through their gastronomy.
Assorted baklava in Istanbul.
I recently returned from two and a half weeks in Japan where, for the first time, I tried horse sashimi (sort of like blue fin tuna)!
On the island of Kyushu, in Southern Japan, I ate raw chicken — the whole bird — served as sashimi. In Japan, the birds are far fresher than most of what’s available in the US. So, eating raw chicken in Japan is like eating a rare steak. In the case of this izakaya, the bird was killed the morning I ate it.
Chef Susumu Shimizu of Anis restaurant in Tokyo holds up the evening’s main attraction.
These journeys give context to why things are they way they are. But further, they offer a broader picture of the world and often make me appreciate silly things I take for granted at home in Manhattan, like the Sweetgreen that’s two blocks away from my apartment or the fact that I can order Ethiopian delivery at four in the morning, if I want.
My dad has been giving me wine since I was probably about 10 years old. For years I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to drink this sour, acidic, crimson liquid, but then one day it just clicked. I not only started enjoying wine, but slowly began to taste the differences in grape varietals and understand the notion of terroir.
My dad also likes to say that the only way to learn about wine is by drinking it, and this is exactly what I tell my friends who say they don’t know anything about the stuff. Just like food and travel, the best way to familiarize yourself with wine, and to figure out what you do like and don’t like, is by tasting as much as you possibly can. Oftentimes, it takes many samples before you can start to piece together the puzzle that is wine; but, hey, at least the journey to understanding is a fun one.
Stopping for a coffee break at a café in Copenhagen.
A question I often encounter is, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” And while that’s a tricky question for me, the real answer that I demonstrate almost nightly is that my favorite restaurant is the one where I’ve never been. Whether I am traveling abroad or at home in the US, every single dining experience offers an opportunity to learn. So get out of your comfort zone and, even if it just means hitting up that nearby hole-in-the-wall Indian spot you’ve eyed but never tried, do it!