travel

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!

eating nyc 1.4: eleven madison park

Finally. My long awaited post wrapping up my September trip to NYC. The ridiculous thing is I’ve been back to NYC since, so there will be a future post on my subsequent NYC trip. All this traveling is bogging me down.

It’s funny what they say about being careful what you wish for. Travel has always been something at the top of my list of favorite things to do in life. But lately, I’ve been traveling so much that all I really want nowadays is to read and sleep in my own bed.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Let’s talk about my first 3-Michelin star experience ever. I got us (and by “us,” I mean myself, my cousin Pauline, and Frank from the show) reservations at Eleven Madison Park. A couple of people who work at Pauline’s Manhattan firm had highly recommended 11 Mad, so we decided to pop all three of our 3-Michelin cherries together in one big hoopla of a meal.

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happy thanksgiving: a montage of my korea trip

I recently went to Japan and Korea for a much needed vacation away from my laptop and cell phone (though I ended up working throughout the vacation anyway–gotta get that much anticipated cookbook written!). I regret not doing crazier things in Japan worth capturing on video, but I made up for it in Korea. I ate so much food overseas that a friend’s mom rubbed my belly and exclaimed something in Japanese that alluded to my being pregnant. The thing is, I’m not pregnant! She’d just fed me a delicious dinner of shabu shabu, so if anything, I was pregnant with her shabu shabu baby! It didn’t matter that I was drinking beer over dinner…sigh. Time to lose the pot belly. It is no longer cute.

Anyway, here is a video of our time in Seoul, Korea. I try live octopus and do the Gangnam-style dance in the actual Gangnam district. I was quite embarrassed doing it because: (1) it was in public at a subway stop, and (2) I hadn’t had any shots of soju. But I did it for the fans since it got a laugh from so many of you. Enjoy the video, and happy Thanksgiving to all.

eating nyc 1.3: momofuku ssam bar

Okay, so I lied. I said I’d cover both Momofuku Ssam Bar and Eleven Madison Park in this entry. But the fact is I just discovered I have no photos from my evening at Eleven Mad, so I am awaiting my dinner companions to send theirs over. This means I won’t get to the Eleven Mad dinner till next post. But it’s all good because I have plenty to say about Ssam Bar.

Momofuku Ssam Bar is the closest thing to a gastropub of Chef David Chang’s family of Momofuku restaurants. (Ssam is in reference to the Korean term for “wrap” and indicates dishes in the Korean cuisine that involve wrapping some meat and pickled veggies in a lettuce leaf and dipping in condiments of sesame oil, salt, and pepper or soy sauce before enjoying.) We went on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend and was told there would be close to a two-hour wait. Fortunately, like Ippudo, the hostess is willing to take down a number and text when the table was ready. That’s when we made our way over to our usual waiting spot at Sake Bar Decibel.

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eating nyc 1.2: ramen, pizza, lobster rolls & fish sauce micheladas

In my last post, I discussed the cheaper eats in New York City. This time, I continue the NYC gastronomical tour by talking about some of the additional places at which I dined, the not-so-cheap but also the not-so-expensive (I’m saving that for part 3 of this NYC series). Basically, these are the in-betweeners, the delicious, the memorable.

Ever since I’d gone to Japan and tasted what real ramen is supposed to taste like, I’ve been on an eternal hunt for a close imitation this side of the Pacific. There is a place in L.A. that I find pretty yummy and close to what I’ve had in Japan. But I’ve never had ramen East Coast style, so of course, I had to pop that cherry.

The first place on my list was Ippudo in the East Village. This ramen joint is notorious for table wait times of two hours plus. But the nice thing is you can put your name and number on the list, amble on over to Sake Bar Decibel, and throw back a few bottles while awaiting the coveted text message from the Ippudo hostess saying your table is ready. And that’s exactly what we did the two times I went. I’m a purist a lot of the time when it comes to food, so I always like to try the classic of anything, especially when it’s my first visit. I found the classic pork ramen at Ippudo to be incredibly savory but not oily; since ramen broth is made by cooking pork bones for several hours, it can sometimes taste too fatty. (For almost all noodle soups, the clearer the broth, the superior the quality and taste.) You can add extra toppings like an onsen (hot springs) egg or extra pork. The pork buns are also worth trying: slightly spicy pork belly nestled inside a steamed bun with extra crisp veggies to cut the fat. I took Frank here one night, and he agreed the ramen was even better than the bowl he’d had at Momofuku Noodle Bar though he’s not nearly of ramen connoisseur status either.

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