Taste Bud Profile
Chef Nyesha has such incredibly intense, positive energy. I loved listening to her talk about the value of legacy, and how the love of her grandparents lives in her still and is translated into her food.
Nyesha Arrington: I was born in a city called Panorama City, which is in Los Angeles, CA. I lived there until I was about 10 years old. We moved to the Antelope Valley, which is about an hour outside of the city and I lived there while my extended family lived in LA. My parents were adamant about us spending a lot of time with my grandmother and extended family, so at least every other weekend we were at my grandma’s house.
I started cooking when I was around 5 years old. My grandmother had little tasks for me—blanching spinach, shocking it in cold water, squeezing it—I like to joke that it was my first sous-chef job.
She was a Korean immigrant, and I can remember seeing the banchan laid out on our table, and I was taught to use chopsticks while eating communally. I was so interested in all the textures and flavors—it’s part artistry, part legacy. I call it intergenerational legacy. It’s love that is passed down. My grandmother is no longer on this planet in a physical form, but it’s important and exciting to get to share those memories, and also to be able to look back and say that her food instilled a passion in me. I think it’s because it lit the fire in my soul of understanding culture. Not just my culture and heritage, but of all people.
So I’m always in search of “what is the meaning” searching for what is the purpose. What is the “why”. For me, that’s storytelling and connection, and it’s not just in Korean food, it’s in all people.
The school I went to in Lancaster County was fairly diverse, but I struggled with what community “should” be hanging out with. Who am I, who do I belong to? I ultimately tried not to look at those things—I was just Nyesha. I think it’s always interesting to look through the eyes of another. You could believe that you are projecting a certain ethos, or understanding of who you are—and it could be understood by another in a completely different light. “Who am I, what am I projecting, and what do people perceive my message to be?” My grandparents grew up in a time of blatant segregation. Between my Korean grandmother and my black grandfather, racism has been systemic throughout my whole life.
Food was the first time I felt loved. The first time I understood what the word love meant was through food.
I understood what it meant to eat something and feel a hug from the inside of my being, and that came from my grandmother. No matter what she faced or how the world perceived her to be—I saw her as an energetic being who transferred that energy to me through a humble act of love, and that never left me.
I believe as a chef, that’s built in to the organic timeline of my life. I didn’t have to go out and learn that. I wanted to be the best in my craft, while anchored in the thought of being a nurturer, and being able to transfer my love and energy to another person through food, and that is what my grandmother gave me. Generational legacy is what makes us human.