travel

eating nyc 2.3: sushi nakazawa


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Chronologically preceding theMasterChef reunion spanning three generations and my first visit to the Bronx, here’s my final installment of my New York City 2.0 series. Upon touching down at Newark, I checked into my hotel, freshened up, met up two friends and my cousin, and headed straight to Sushi Nakazawa.

If you’ve ever seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you may recall Daisuke Nakazawa, the chef who, under the tutelage of sushi master Jiro, learned to perfect tamago, a beloved Japanese egg custard, but only after having prepared it 200 times.

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eating nyc 2.2: my first visit to the bronx


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I know very little about the Bronx. Actually, I’ve never been outside Manhattan to any of the surrounding boroughs, with the exception of getting to and from LaGuardia airport and a couple of trips to Brooklyn. I only knew three things about the Bronx: (1) it had a zoo, (2) the Yankees play there, and (3) J. Lo is from the Bronx.

From what I’ve gathered from media over the years, I pictured the Bronx as home to the blue-collared working class. Tell me I’m not that far off…?

The thing about the working class is they are a no-bullsh*t type of people, which means their food is usually unpretentious, inexpensive, and flavorful.

Eating was, however, the secondary reason as to why I came to the Bronx in June. Danielle, founder of Global Pop-Up, asked me to visit the Lavelle School for the Blind to inspire the kids with a little talk and cooking demo. I’ve been so fortunate to be placed in such a position—to be able to inspire others towards unbound heights—so I accepted the invitation since I was in NYC already for the AFB 2014 HKAAs.
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eating nyc 2.1: fior di latte, raw baby octopus, and fish sauce cocktails


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Even though I was in New York City this June for the AFB 2014 Helen Keller Achievement Awards, I made sure I set aside time for some good eaten’ since NYC is such a gastronomical destination. Because MasterChef season 4 winner Luca Manfé’s cookbook, My Italian Kitchen had just published, I also made it a point to meet up with Luca to get my copy signed and for a little MC reunion.

Luca set up an evening of cocktails and pizzas at Zio Ristorante, a bumpin’ Italian restaurant from his friend, also named Luca. (Who would’ve thought?) There I met Christine Silverstein and Elizabeth Cauvel from MasterChef season 5 (which was currently airing at the time). That’s right, three generations of MasterChef contestants getting together to eat and drink. I was also ecstatic to meet up with some familiar faces from crew: Perry, Trask, and JP, who were like my guardians during my sequestered time away at MC3. (Perry and Trask even refer to themselves as my MC3 “mom and dad”—they’ve seen all of us contestants at our best and our worst.)

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eating denver 1.0: my first key lime pie, lots of sausage, and tons of goat cheese

I was in Denver this summer at a fundraising gala for Phamaly Theatre Company, a theatre group giving those with various disabilities opportunities to take the stage. As a writer and graduate of University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, I am naturally a supporter of the arts and jumped at the chance to support the performing and musical arts for a group of people With special needs.

As a person with a disability, I have firsthand experience on what sort of a toll it takes on the self-esteem. Phamaly provides a way for those with disabilities to take center stage, helping raise self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-expression.

But enough about my soapbox for the day. Let’s move on to what I ate in Denver!

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eating stockholm 1.2: herring, beer, more herring, and a wiener and mashed potato burrito

If you think the title of this second half of my Stockholm series sounds crazy, it’s because the food kind of was.

Per a recommendation from my liaison with the Ikea Supper Club campaign, we ate at Oaxen Slip which, my dining companions told me, had a beautiful waterfront view. We were seated in an enclosed patio with an actual boat suspended from the ceiling. The server said the smoked herring appetizer was a must-try, and this dish turned out to be my favorite. I also had a healthy helping of snaps, which was no easy feat in my esophagus.

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eating stockholm 1.1: frantzen

Oh, for the love of food…

Last month, I’d gone to Stockholm to serve as guest chef at Ikea Sweden’s Supper Club. After an event in Milwaukee, followed by a butt-crack-of-dawn ride to the airport to catch an early flight to Houston, a 5-hour layover in Houston, then 16 hours of travel time to Stockholm, I stepped off the plane, dropped bags at the hotel, and headed straight to Frantzén, one of two 2-Michelin star restaurants in Sweden.

I must say, I believe I enjoy 2-star restaurants more than 3-starred ones. I chalk it up to my affinity for accessible food and dining experiences. When I say “accessible,” I mean dishes that can be relatable by all; sometimes, an experience is so formal, I’m too stressed about proper table manners to truly enjoy the experience. And eating, being a favorite pastime, should be nothing but relaxing. A part of it stems from my not being able to see; and thus, presentation of plates is not as impressive to me, nor is the often complicated methods of eating them—give me a single bowl and a single spoon, and I’ll happily scoop stuff into my mouth.

Frantzén, I was told, was small and simple in design. Unadorned linens, plain white walls, no fancy chandeliers or buttresses. Just a bar with an open kitchen, and a few tables gathered within the unassuming space.

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3 pairs of shoes, 1 tiny tote bag: how to pack luggage efficiently

As mentioned in last week’s post about the iGrill, Memorial Day—thus, summertime—is just about upon us. With the kids out of school and the climate luring us from beneath our down comforters and out our doors, summertime is peak season for a lot of people’s favorite pastimes: vacations!

Almost everyone has at least one (if not several) fond memories of vacations from childhood to present. My most memorable ones from my wee days were of road trips to southern California to visit family. I grew up an only child, so my cousins were the closest thing I had to siblings. We would hang blankets from the top bunk and force the youngest to go through our “haunted house.” We’d play with Barbie dolls or lip sync and dance to the VHS tape of Madonna’s Like A Virgin tour. In my adulthood, some favorite vacations include my backpacking through western Europe the summer after I graduated college, our honeymoon to Paris and Barcelona, and my two trips to Japan. If backpacking has taught me anything, it’s how to pack light and efficiently.

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blind life episode 2: visiting the set of masterchef canada

Back in October, I was in Toronto shooting the first season of my Canadian cooking show, “Four Senses,” when I received a message on Facebook from Sandee Birdsong, the almighty culinary producer behind all the main competitive culinary shows you see on American television, including MasterChef U.S., Top Chef, and now MasterChef Canada.

“You’re in Toronto?? I’m here doing MC Canada, and we’re about to tape our finale. Can you come visit the set and give a pep talk to the finalists?” Sandee had said.

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the vision thing: an essay in houstonia magazine

My life for the past 20 months has revolved around cooking and food. But before that, my life had revolved around writing. I hope that soon enough, I will be able to strike a fine balance between the two loves of my life, as I like to call them.

So it was with great pleasure that I was recently asked to write a personal essay for the new kid on the Houston journalism block, Houstonia Magazine. My former editor at Eating Our Words, the Houston Press food and dining blog for which I was a former contributor, is now at Houstonia, and she approached me about writing for the “H-town Diary” column, which she’d mentioned also boasts the likes of such writers as Chitra Divakaruni and Mat Johnson, both of whom were my instructors at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Of course I agreed I would write a piece for the December issue—it was my chance to switch gears and float back towards my writer persona. Plus I figured it would give me new material for my memoir (which I plan to finish a draft of in 2014—more on this later).

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cruising down memory lane: l.a. in july

Ever since I’d returned from filming the show almost a year ago (can you believe it’s been that long already?!), I’ve been quite the jet-setter. I adore traveling because I love learning about other cultures and especially their foods. And when I say “other cultures,” I don’t always mean countries on the other side of the globe. “Other cultures” could refer to another region in the U.S. Or even that neighboring city a couple of hours down the interstate.

But, as I believe with most things in life, everything in moderation. Too much traveling can be exhausting, and now that I’ve found myself home with no foreseeable travel plans for at least a month or two, it feels so damn nice. Since last summer, I’ve watched the mileage in my airline frequent flyer miles climb; I’ve flown over 40,000 miles in less than a year.

Sometimes, I am still treated like I’m incapable at the airports. A recent trip found me in a strange conversation with a TSA employee at security checkpoint.

TSA employee: Can you see anything?
Me: Very little.
TSA employee: You look so normal.
Me: What do you mean? I am normal.
TSA employee: It must be scary flying alone.
Me: Not really. I fly alone all the time.


I wanted to sock him and say, “Scared to fly alone?! I survived MasterChef, biatch!” But of course, I didn’t. I have a respectable image to uphold, you know.

Anyway, looking back at all my travels, I realized I’m way behind on my blog posts. When I first started this blog, my goal was to blog at least once a week. Then I left for the show, and The Blind Cook went on understandable hiatus. Then I returned and was super busy with post-show obligations, and my posts became bimonthly at best. Now I just looked at the last post I wrote, and it was over a month ago! I know this is unacceptable, but please cut me some slack. I just finished writing a cookbook, came back from Vietnam where I was part of the production of “MasterChef” Vietnam, and now I’m trying to hammer out my thesis to graduate in May.

I was looking back at the long list of entries I need to write and decided I’ll just take a trip down Memory Lane. Here’s a trip I took to L.A. In July 2012. There’s not much to this trip in the ways of enjoyable gastronomy, but it was a nice trip nonetheless. FOX was holding their Television Critics Association (TCA) press conference and invited both MC3Felix and me to attend as reps for “MasterChef” season 3. They knew we were dynamic together and good friends, and what could’ve been an intimidating day turned out to be great fun. (After all, isn’t it always all about the company?)

In the same trip, I also did a cooking demo on ”Good Day L.A.”. I’m always nervous before a cooking demo or before I go on camera, in fact, but they usually turn out swell.

Since July, I’ve returned to L.A. A handful of times (including last week when I had that notorious conversation at checkpoint). More to come.

Till next time, wish me luck on my thesis!

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