I’m actually not traveling today. It’s a down week for us. And it’s kind of nice to be home to take care of things. You know, like laundry. There are only so many pairs of underwear and socks in my collection (although many more cool socks than underwear).
As a chef, travel is tremendously important. It broadens my senses and experiences so that I can constantly push the limit with my food. By exploring new places and tasting new things I build my palette and I get to bring those experiences home to play with. The new challenge is taking those foods and flavors and building them within a Paleo/Primal matrix. That’s where the real fun begins.
Growing up in Southern California for a large chunk of my life I developed a great fondness for really good Mexican food. The authentic Mexican food.
My Dad had a Sergeant who worked for him while based in SoCal, Lena, and I got to spend a few weekends with her and her family at their house in Simi Valley. It was the truest of cultural immersion. After sweating to death in the never ending traffic parade through the valley, we arrived at her house late on Friday night. It was a small square tan stucco bungalow that looked like every other house on the block. A chain link fence surrounding a brown and dying lawn. Cars in the driveway. Cars lining the streets. The sound of dogs barking at helicopters flying over head.
It was late and everyone was sitting around eating pizza and watching TV. I figured I wasn’t going to starve at that point. They’re eating pizza. It was a good sign. Although I didn’t quite understand what was playing on the TV.
I was a strange white kid transplant in a large SoCal Mexican family. Sleeping on the couch that night I remember my mind wandering down those dark alleys imagining all the bad things that could happen to me.
You name it and I thought it. I was playing out every stereotype possible in my head.
I woke up that morning to the most amazing smell. It was heaven, I knew it. I had been shot in the middle of the night. Died. And went to Heaven. The aroma of corn masa frying, and the earthy smell of fresh beans simmering. Heaven was in Mexico. Who knew?
I wasn’t dead.
The matriarch of the family, a small brown woman with huge dark eyes and a smile that went from ear to ear was busy in the small postage stamp kitchen making fresh tortillas and pinto beans. Breakfast! Oh My God! I get to have burritos for breakfast. It was heaven.
The grandmother didn’t speak much English, and I sure as anything didn’t speak any Spanish, expect for gracias. But none-the-less we communicated. She taught me how to make tortillas that morning before anyone woke up. Rolling the dough. Flattening it with the press. And frying it in a dry cast iron pan. As soon as it was done I scooped some beans into the tortilla and ate. And started the process over again. To this day I can still taste the fresh corn masa blended with the earthy rich beans flavored with cumin, fresh onion and cilantro. That’s all I ate for two days. And to this day I still crave those flavors.
I lost all my preconceived ideas that day. My prejudices fell away. I played. I had fun. I learned some Spanish. I learned to fix my bike. And I ate. And cooked. And ate. I didn’t want to go home. Back to the blue box mac n’ cheese at my Dad’s house.
Just traveling over a Hill is all it took to have a life changing experience. One that changed my perspective forever. I don’t travel with stereotypes any more. I travel with open eyes and mind, looking for that next immersive experience, and because of that I usually find it.
Travel isn’t always about distance. About far-off places. Sometimes travel can just be a trip to the Valley.