So how, people always ask when this comes up, did I end up a food obsessive working at Cooking Light? My mom. She may not be very good at making it, but she loves food, all food, and taught her son to do the same.
Once, on a trip to visit my grandparents in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, my family went to the Rustic Inn for garlic crab. Mom (to be fair, Dad, Grandma, and Poppa were there too) set a whole crab in front of me, handed me a giant wooden mallet and tiny fork, and told me to go crazy . I was four years old. To this day, I love crab, and the Rustic Inn, if more for sentimental reasons than anything else, is my favorite restaurant in the whole world.
My parents took me for sushi for the first time when I was about seven. Somehow—despite Dad introducing me to wasabi by telling me to "try the green stuff! It's delicious!"—I loved it too. By the time I was 10, Mom and Dad had introduced me to just about every kind of food you could get in the Chicago suburbs, which is a lot. They had no qualms about feeding their little boy anything—football-sized burritos and tamales at El Famous Burrito; scallion pancakes, bibimbop, and fiery kimchi from the little Korean grocery near my grandparents' house; proper deep-dish Chicago-style sausage pizza from Lou Malnati's; eggplant parmesan from La Rosa just around the corner from our house. Food was a vast, glorious world to be explored, and none of it was forbidden or dirty or gross or wrong.
And the only thing we'd talk about when eating out was other restaurants—where we had eaten this same dish better, why one Chinese place's shrimp with lobster sauce was in a thick brown gravy and another's in a runny opaque-yellow one, which Chicago pizza joint had the best crust (for the record, it's Pizzeria Uno: not the chain you can go to all over the country, but the original, on Ohio Street, which has a different recipe from the franchises). I was well on my way to this career by the time I started junior high. Heck, Golden Chef, a Chinese restaurant that opened a few months after I was born and which we ate at about once a month for my entire childhood, catered my bar mitzvah!
I may not have had the most well-developed cooking skills when I moved out of Mom's house, but I certainly had the confidence to give it a try. And now she makes me cook for her whenever I come home to visit.
My mother taught me to fear no food, to taste everything, and to learn as much as I could about it. So I guess it was destined from the start that I'd end up here. And in a way, it's mom's dry, overcooked chicken's fault. Thanks, Mom. And happy Mother's Day.