Taste Bud Profile
Growing up in the South, Chef Samantha Fore often felt like she did not quite fit in. Food offered a way to connect and commune with people, and to celebrate the things about herself that initially set her apart from other kids. Chef Sam learned to be herself, and believes that Kalamata can help kids everywhere do the same.
Samantha Fore: My earliest food memories are of my mom. When I was really little, she’d make these little curry rice balls for me. They’d have chicken, potato white curry, green bean curry, and rice, and she’d shape them into balls and make a little pyramid out of them for me to eat for my dinner. I remember watching her make them, and I remember loving them. I still do it sometimes, when I need a little comfort bite. I also remember my parents having this miraculous curry leaf plant that I’m sure some aunty smuggled over from Sri Lanka at some point—my curry leaf plant is definitely from that same tree!—and the smell of curry leaves is something that is also always super nostalgic for me. I remember when I was younger thinking that this was just a strange, smelly tree—but realizing that ‘wow, this is where all the flavor comes from’. I’m reminded of different things depending on where the curry leaves are from. They have different pungencies. So when I smell really pungent leaves, they remind me of my mom, and of Sri Lanka. When I smell the lighter ones, I remember walking through the aisles of the Indian store when I was a kid, realizing that all of our Sri Lankan ingredients were similar but just a little different to the ones in the store. There was such a focus on assimilation when I was a child—first to fit in in the South, here in the US, but also as a Sri Lankan—you’re often just lumped in with Indian culture, when in fact there’s a great deal of distinction. I wish I had a Kalamata when I was a kid, to help me realize that my experience, while different from the kids around me, was valid and something to treasure. I would have felt less alone. But also, that feeling of isolation as a child is something that drives me today—I really never want people to feel alone.
Whether there’s something to celebrate or to grieve, to cope, or just for nourishment—food can bring us all together and give us a way to feel less alone.
My parents immigrated from Sri Lanka to the US in 1972. My mom would go to the market in her sari, just trying to figure things out—trying to find enough familiar ingredients, make do with what they had, and also learn how to cook the food she remembered from home. My parents sought out and formed their own community here—they’d get together with other Sri Lankan families and everyone would bring food, or cook together. It was a recreation, in a way, of the communities they had left behind. This entire generation was learning who they were as people because they were so far away from everything they had known their whole lives. They wanted to retain and preserve their identities, given their limited resources. The feeling of preservation, of community—that’s really what made me pursue my life in food. It wasn’t about connecting with Sri Lankans, specifically—it was more about connecting with that feeling of being together over food. I remember an uncle bringing me a bag of rambutans, an aunt making my favorite curry for me, and going to restaurants together to experience food from all over the world. Once, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant, and it was the first time I realized that another culture also ate with their hands the way we did at home. Having those feelings of community, and the opportunities to recognize commonalities—that all made me feel a little less alone. I was always the odd one out, but now, all of the things that set me apart from other kids where I grew up are the things I embrace the most. I never would have expected that as a child, but I am so glad it has happened.
I remember kids having lemonade stands, and that was the accepted “food business” for kids, but that was never me. I grew up with cutlets, and spinach balls, and bright green bread made from zucchini. That was normal for me, but not normal in my surroundings—and I didn’t see it in a positive light. Part of forging your own path is accepting yourself in a positive light. You have to think to yourself, ‘ok, this is what makes me special. This is what sets me apart. This is something to be proud of, not ashamed.’ Kalamata, I think, could have helped me understand that there was a future in simply being who I am. That the future lies in understanding yourself. I don’t think I would have made it very far professionally if I hadn’t put in the work to really understand and appreciate more of what makes me me.