The Grown-Up Table
Taste Bud Holiday Memories
Learn about what inspires some of our favorite chefs to share what’s on their plate during the holiday season.
The chefs we work with inspire us not only with their culinary brilliance, but with their individual missions to do good for others. Many of them speak of the power of food to transform relationships, build communities, and offer opportunities for growth and self-reflection, and it’s always fascinating and inspiring to understand what sparked their journeys into food. Often it is tied to memory, childhood experiences, and an inherent desire to care for others. This holiday season, let’s all take a moment to reflect not just on the importance of sharing what we have with others, but why we are driven to do so. Here are the why’s from some of our favorite chefs.
On connectivity, tradition, and identity
I love making glutinous rice balls with kids. Around Christmas time, we have a gathering celebration for our family. Usually, family members return to their grandparents’ homes from all over the world for a special dinner, and this desert is symbolic as a completion of the meal. We like things to be round because circles connect people. They represent good things coming around. We believe that the round glutinous rice ball is symbolic for the energy of the circle, which comes back to its origins and is continuous from start to end. My return to my origins made me realize who I really am, and I try to express what I learned in my cooking for other people as well.
On embracing her family’s roots
Our holiday food was Jewish with Appalachian touches, like Hanukkah potato latkes with apple butter. It wasn’t “normal” to have classic Jewish food in KY, but I decided as a child that I’d embrace what it meant to be different from everybody else. I learned a really important lesson from that—you don’t have to be in a certain place to eat a certain kind of food.
On how cooking smells like home
Growing up, my grandmother was cooking all the time. I learned to love food and cooking through her. Certain smells, particularly around the holidays, always take me home. It’s not necessarily anything specific—it’s the preparation of it, the process that really makes me feel at home. I remember one holiday spent with another family, and I woke up on Christmas morning and couldn’t smell anything cooking at all. It was the opposite of what “home” and “holidays” had always meant to me. Even if I were alone, I’d cook a full Christmas dinner for myself, just to have those smells and the foods I’ve eaten my entire life on Christmas.
On showing love through sharing a meal
I’m not really a hugger, nobody in my family is, but we show love through cooking. Recently, I had a friend going through a tough time, and her husband wanted to do something special for her. We threw her an incredible surprise lobster dinner, with all of her closest friends there to support and surprise her. She arrived and she had tears of joy streaming down her face, and we sat down and ate this incredible meal all together, and it brought joy to everyone present. And I thought about it this way—what gift could I have given her that would have had the same effect? I really don’t think there is one that compares to the feelings of togetherness and love through food.
On healing through food in her restaurants
We get to feel good about our progress on the plate, and send it out in the world. Who knows what the person who receives it is going through? Maybe illness, heartache, sadness—and maybe something we put on the plate can help. I try to think about that every single time I cook in making myself a little bit better, maybe I’m helping someone else too.
On learning that caring for others through food can strengthen communities
…watching my grandmothers, I realized food could be a way to help people too. One of them would cook at church on Sundays and give away meals to anyone who needed them. My other grandmother, she turned her house into a home-care facility where she would take care of families who needed help, or people who didn’t have family of their own to help them out. I saw both of them constantly being vocal and active about helping people in our communities—and the food was good too! So that really stuck with me.
On the power of sharing
We all have something to give. Find a way to give it. Sharing, and especially through food, builds community. The act of sharing can be transformative in your life.
On the importance of togetherness
I love to cook, and I love to feed people. But what I love most about restaurants, about hospitality, is the way we come together through food. It’s how we celebrate. It’s how we grieve. It’s how we share with each other. Food is not just something you eat for nutrition or energy. I want everyone to slow down, and to realize that when we eat food together, we share a moment together. We share time together. And that idea of togetherness—that’s what my strongest memories are tied to.
On helping others however you can
…My mom was an immigrant—the second oldest daughter of eight kids, and the first of them to move to the USA…While working tirelessly to raise us, she was constantly helping her family, friends, and employees establish their families here as well…And the only way she knew she could help them was through food, through her work at the restaurant. There were so many times I’d come home from school and she’d say “Ok Ronald—tomorrow you’re going to have this man and his family staying in your room, and they’re going to stay for a month, until they get on their feet and find their own place. They’ll work with us till then. We’re welcoming them to our family and you’ll sleep somewhere else.”…To me, that was real hospitality. Welcoming complete strangers into our home, and integrating them into our family.