Taste Bud Profile
Chef Sara Hauman’s memories of her grandma’s kitchen sparked wonder in her as a child. She learned that food could make someone’s day, and also that you could always find ways to make life more delicious. When traveling abroad, she found the same feeling she had in her grandma’s kitchen, and leaned fully into her passion for food, and for chasing perfection on her own terms.
Sara Hauman: My earliest food memories are mostly of my grandma. My grandparents lived in Illinois, and we’d either take a train or make a road trip out of it from California to Illinois. As a kid, I thought the trip itself was the worst, sitting still for that long. But we’d get to her house, and there were all these things I was interested in. She had a whole basement used for canning and pickling things. You’d go down there and have no idea how old some of the jars were, but there were just so many of them. You could probably live for at least 2 years off of the food in the basement! I was always interested in canning and preserving. I thought it was so cool. It never really occurred to me then why it was a thing for my grandma—but she grew up in the Depression era, so a lot of what she made was simple, and she made it stretch. When she’d make mashed potatoes with dinner, the next morning she’d take the leftovers and mix them with a little bit of egg and flour and make little potato pancakes which we’d have with maple syrup. She also used to make these special whiskey cookies for my dad. My mom never made them at home, but when we visited, my grandma always made sure to make them. It was this idea of making someone’s day, or making them that thing that they’ve been craving, that made being at her house feel special. It was my first introduction to the idea that the company and the situation affect the food in a really big way, versus just thinking of whether the food itself is really great or not. Little things like that got me very interested.
I also really thought that the kitchen was the coolest place to be, because it was just my grandma in there, and that meant that really the life of the party was in the kitchen.
My mom wasn’t the greatest cook. She had her staples, but one night she strayed from them and made rabbit. I remember thinking, “wow, I hate this, and I will never eat rabbit again.” Then we went to my grandma’s house, and she said she was going to make rabbit. In my family, if you say you won’t eat something, you’re just not eating that night. My grandmother told me I had to at least try it. She put it in a casserole dish, covered it in cream of mushroom soup and some water, covered it with foil and put it in the oven to roast on low heat for a while. When she took it out and I tried it, I thought it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. This sparked something in me—that there was always a way to make something better, and that just because I had dry rabbit once, it didn’t mean that I didn’t like rabbit in general. I feel like I had a lot of these food discoveries with my grandma, because she knew you could do things in a different way to make something more delicious.
I also spent a lot of time with my dad, catching crawdads and fishing. We’d go fishing fairly often—it was always kind of an event.
I used to get car sick every time. But, once we got there, it was so fun for me. We did lazy fishing—just sitting by the side of a lake with a pole. I loved every part of it—catching the fish, cleaning it, going home with a catch, my dad’s fish jerky—the whole process. For me, it was a form of connectedness, just like it was at my grandma’s house.
Again, we didn’t travel very much, but we did get to go out to dinner, and I feel like that was the way I travelled as a kid. And getting to eat out gave me a real travel bug, which I think is ultimately why I wanted to pursue cooking. I went to a project-based charter school. One of my projects was to create my own restaurant. I had a whole scrapbook of what it would be—the menus, the decor, even the bathrooms. For my presentation, I made spaetzle for everyone. Despite that very clear indication of my interest, I think I wanted to be a news anchor, or study science. I didn’t actually realize studying food was a possibility. Looking back, it’s easy to see that I always had an interest in food, I just didn’t think that I could make it a career. After school, I took a year off instead of going to college. My dad had moved to Spain, and I went to stay with him. That’s where I realized I could make food my career. The style of eating and the culture there is amazing. Even in a different place, I got the same feeling that I had in my grandma’s house—the company and the atmosphere play just as large of a role in the experience as the food itself. It was all connected. It really hit me there. After a year in Spain, I decided to go to culinary school.
The thing that now draws me to food is also the thing that I hate about it in a professional sense—it’s never perfect.
I’ve struggled in this industry because I am a perfectionist, and I’m always trying to please everyone else. The main thing I’ve learned—and it has taken me a very long time!—is that you’re not going to please everyone. You can always make something better, and you can always keep working at it—but do it for you. Are you proud of what you did? Do you like it? If so, that’s what matters most, not what anyone else thinks of it.