Gastrophoria: An Unconventional Love Story


I must confess, I am in love with food.

This love struck me early in life, when my parents presented me with my first red bean roll. If you’ve never had one, it’s a soft brioche bun, glazed with egg yolk to a mirror-like sheen and marked with sesame seeds like freckles. Once you bite in, you are rewarded by the sweetened maroon paste made of Azuki beans. When it’s done right, nothing tops it for me—not even chocolate.

Once I tasted this wondrous confection, there was no turning back. I neglected my usual toy shops haunts in favor of bakeries. I was that peculiar kid that stood in front of baked good cases staring in awe. To me, the contents inside the cases were infinitely more valuable and delicious than any jewel. Believe me, I tried eating one and it was no good.

Soon, I wanted to learn more and be closer to the object of my affection. In addition to eating (a lot), I started spending Saturdays watching cooking shows on PBS. Then, my mom introduced me to the Martha Stewart Show and it changed my life. If there is a real life superhero, Martha would be her. She single-handedly creates spectacular meals, keeps the household in tip top shape and manages to stay effortlessly chic throughout it all. I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

In 6th grade and armed with VCR recordings of her Martha’s show, I begun to experiment in the kitchen. Eggs were my first challenge. I tackled the task by making eggs in all its different forms. That year was filled with scrambled eggs, spam and ramen—good stuff.

In college, I learned about the world of food outside of home while attending University of Southern California. Started with chain restaurants, then moved up to nearby eateries, all the while cooking constantly in the student housing kitchen.

It wasn’t till after graduation that I experienced fine dining for the first time. Before then, I thought CPK was classy—not a proud moment in my life. Due to my desire to visit France but lacking in funds, I wrote to Boule, the best patisserie in town at the time, for a position.

The catch was that I had no formal culinary education—I majored in fine arts and minored in business. Even so, I wrote in my cover letter I trained with the greats (namely Martha Stewart and Jacque Pepin) by watching them on TV and practicing their techniques afterwards. To seal the deal, I sent them my design portfolio.

Looking back, it was a wonder they replied back, but as luck would have it, their pastry chef extraordinaire, Ramon Perez, called me in for an interview. He told me he enjoyed my cover letter and was impressed by my paintings, but said I was not a good fit for Boule. Just as my heart broke, he asked if I would like to work in pastries at Sona instead, Boule’s sister restaurant.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was big, epic even. Holder of a Michelin star and one of the leaders in Nouveau French cuisine, Sona was the boot camp for budding chefs. I learned about the existence of tasting menus, of amuse bouche, of mignardises and the endless possibilities for desserts. Chef Ramon incorporated meats, vegetables and even squid ink to push the boundaries and change my perception on what constitutes as a dessert. Although I went back to design after a few months after realizing cooking full-time wasn’t for me, I still look upon that summer with great fondness.

Now, I design and paint to fund my love/addiction of food. During off-hours though, you can find me dining out, cooking for friends (aka my guinea pigs) and wherever food adventure takes me next. From roasting enough pork bellies for 200 people, to making paninis on the KTLA Morning News, to learning how to create the perfect fish Taco at BLD, I can never get enough!

I started Gastrophoria originally as a little black book to catalog good eats for myself and my friends. Since then, it has evolved as a journal chronicling my food adventures with a dash of life musings. Thank you for reading and I hope to have a food adventure with you soon!

Bon appétit,
Tsz

Ps. I finally got to see Martha Stewart during a recent NY trip. Yes, I still want to grow up to be just like her!