When 'Kit-Kat', 'Jook', McDonalds & Memories Make Fried Rice

Sunday, March 20, 2016

interview with my cutie-pie friend, Jessie Wan.

 

I met Jessie as part of a secret Tiffin series I did in Los Angeles in 2012. A young girl with an infectious smile joined us one July evening, on the terrace of Getty Museum along with 8 other couples for an evening supper. She had paid for one ticket but came with another single guest. I learned later in the two were dating and had decided to pay their own share of the meal, just to keep money out of the relationship. That's smart, I thought to myself. Yes, she turned out to be one smart cookie!

 

Later that month, I had a private dinner party to cater and was struggling for a helper. I had exchanged a general ‘ask’ with some of my guests and she mentioned she may be able to help me out. She not only helped me cater the party, made the best kheema stuffed wontons (since she was already an expert at it) but during the evening, I learned about her wonderful relationship with food, but also her love-hate-relationship with Wontons! Apparently her mother used to assign her this task all the time as child and she was not fond of it then. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a friendship with this adorable woman, Jessie.

 

A year later when I did the Kickstarter for “A Dozen Ways”, and more recently with “Crack the Code”, Jessie has stayed one of my supporters, even sharing advice from her moonlighting gig. Somewhere in there, I discovered that she was getting married to the man who had joined us that evening at the Getty - I could not have been happier that two genuinely nice people had found each other!

 

Understanding a little more about Jessie over these past few years reminds me that food comes from a place of comfort - because as you cook it and consume it, you create elegant threads that connect your soul to anothers' and transcend the ties to culture and place. Good food CAN define your spirit.

Here is a little more about my really cool, cute friend,

Jessie Wan

an enthusiastic home cook and moonlighter @ Hipcooks OC
{among other things}

 

 

Tell the readers a little bit about yourself, your culinary heritage and anything else you would like strangers to know. Like an elevator speech at a foodie convention.

  • I had the good fortune of growing up in a household where both parents were great cooks, but it didn’t start out that way. The beautiful thing about it is, my mom and dad have dramatically different styles of cooking and the things I love to eat/cook are a reflection of that. My mom is very similar to me as a cook - she loves the next great challenge, loves to share her food and dissecting why things go wrong. My dad on the other hand, is a casual cook. I call his style, “Chinese Soul Food.” Much of what he makes is what he learned growing up cooking side by side with his mother. He came from the Guangdong province from a city called Chiuchow. They speak a different Chinese dialect and have their own distinct cuisine. Growing up, my dad would often give my mom a break on weekends and do the cooking, which included wonderfully simple things like a very thick plain “jook” (rice porridge) that was served with 2-3 side dishes that you mix in with the porridge, oyster pancakes, sweet crispy noodles served with red vinegar, Shanghai fried rice (the best in the universe as my cousins used to say) and my personal favorite, sesame noodles. My dad has the best knife skills of anyone I know – and all he uses is a big butcher’s knife. He can julienne better than most mandolins and break down a duck like no one’s business. I keep pestering him to teach me.

What are some of your fondest memories of food, as a child and which are your most hated ones?

  • I have a deep affection for Kit Kat bars. When I was little, my grandfather and grandmother on my mom’s side took care of me when my parents were at work. We were still living in Hong Kong at the time. Every once in a while, if I had been a very good child and napped without fussing too much, my grandfather would give me a Kit Kat bar as a treat. To this day, I love eating Kit Kat bars because it reminds me of my wonderful grandfather.

  • My most hated food memory was how nauseous I would get when I ate too much greasy food! I can recall many nights when I had pushed it too far at a birthday party earlier in the day and would be up in the middle of the night incredibly nauseous. Tempura was actually the biggest culprit that would cause this. I love tempura now and can eat it no problem but when I was younger, tempura was a guarantee for a miserable night.

 

With all the flavors surrounding you: from your past, your single self and your married self – which are more prominent in your life, and which would you like to replace (like something that is not good for you now, but you love to eat it anyway because it is nostalgic?)

  • Even though my access to food has greatly expanded, I still find myself gravitating heavily toward Asian cuisines. There’s something about eating a bowl of noodles or rice that really settles me and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from that.

  • My secret shame: I really like McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries. I don’t know what it is, but as a “foodie,” it’s a shameful thing to admit to. I think it’s because my mom used to take me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal as a “treat” and I associate those flavors with reward. In any case, I hope I grow out of it someday. Andrew (my husband) could not be more appalled.

When you see a recipe from someone you trust, what is the first thing that compels you to make it?  How do you choose a recipe: the recipe, the story, the ease, the end result, or others, and in what order?

  • I rarely choose just one recipe to follow. In my experience, recipes alone are incomplete and require input from multiple sources. Before I embark on cooking a new recipe, I like to do 360 research across multiple sites and cookbooks. I really like to read and re-read a recipe so that I have some grasp on what comes next when I’m cooking. That being said, when I see an interesting recipe from someone I trust, I generally base my choice on how challenging it is and what I have in my pantry. I really love a good challenge and I really like to use up ingredients!

I believe both your husband and you love a variety of food flavors. Are there any tastes or cuisines you completely disagree on? How do you navigate around it? How much compromise is involved?

  • Andrew cannot and will not agree with me on oysters or offal. There is no compromise – I just go and enjoy it by myself or with friends. I have become quite the shucker as a result.

If there was one representative dish from your past and present, these would be? How does your cultural heritage shape your personality and your food choices? (If it does at all)

  • I would say my dad’s fried rice is probably the dish that I would want to represent me. It’s a generous dish in the sense that it can be made in large quantities and maintain its quality, so it’s a wonderful dish to share. It’s exceedingly simple but requires the chef to know small tricks like “make sure to cook the rice at least a couple hours before you will use it because it needs to dry out” or the unexpected secret ingredient: a little bit of sugar. I love it for its flavor and simplicity, but more importantly, for the memories of large Sunday family dinners where we all gathered around a big wok of my dad “Best Fried Rice in the Universe.”

What was your craziest cooking adventure, one that you love to reminisce about but would hate to repeat?

  • The first time I ever taught a cooking class, I had not been previously trained! I flew by the seat of my pants. I was the assistant at a cooking school I had been volunteering at for a while. The bartender that evening didn’t show up to teach his half of the class so I had to step in. At one point in the evening, I had to Google a question on my iPhone because I didn’t know the answer. It was a tad embarrassing but I held it together. I know bartending isn’t technically cooking, but it was my first teaching experience and one I will certainly never forget.

What culinary adventure would you love to embark on, no holds barred.

  • Where do I even begin! Is there such a thing as a cruise that takes you around the world and you get to stop at lots of ports where you get off the boat and take cooking classes in different countries? That would be my dream retirement plan…

Pick your all-time favorite food (or your go-to-food) that represents each of the following tastes. Each can be different. For instance, your fav. sweet food may be donuts and your fav. spicy thing may be sriracha glazed muffins.

  • Sweet: Chocolate – plain and simple

  • Salty: French Fries

  • Sour: Tom Yum Soup

  • Astringent: Red Wine

  • Bitter: Coffee  

  • Spicy / Pungent: Stinky Tofu!

  • Umami: Fish Sauce

Do you have any questions for me?

Besides Indian cuisine, what other cuisine do you like to cook and enjoy eating?

So sweet of you -  thanks for asking, Jessie!
 

I love tasting all sorts of different kinds of cuisines other than Indian: Middle-eastern, Asian food (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese), Greek, sometimes Mexican; I enjoy standard American fare just as much as the next guy, but prefer the ones that go one step outside of salt and pepper.

 

We try and eat a variety of cuisines at home, so some nights it is Mac & Cheese and other nights it may be a Rajma-Chawal (Red Beans and Rice), Chicken Kheema, Pad Thai or a simple Asian stirfry. I dont take on too many ambitious dishes until we have eaten them elsewhere first and have a solid, reliable recipe. This is more because I have to cook also for a teenager who is politely adventerous with food, but does not eat everything. We've even enjoyed Korean food (although I did not care for that one cookbook), but I dont think I could bring myself to cook it at home.

 

I think regional or ethnic flavors need to grow on me before I cook it. I have to taste a dish before I am tempted to make it. I dont insist on a certain pallette of flavors, it just has to be flavorful.

 

My pet peeve is when I cannot reheat a dish because the flavors have died. That, to me, is a huge disservice to the diner :)


 

What is your guilty food pleasure?

Where do I begin? I love all desserts but my hand will be caught in the containers of Jalebi, a tray of Tiramisu, or a good home-made pie.... look what you've done, Jessie, now I am craving Pie. Sigh!

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AUTHOR

Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect. Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & closeted poet. Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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