Friday, 28 August 2009

How it started...

My name is Michael Toa; I am twenty-one and I want to publicly say, "I blame everything on my parents!"

My parents love to cook and every time we eat, food is more than just a meal; it is a way to express togetherness and joyfulness. Food means celebration. Before the many gatherings my parents host; like Christmas, New Year or simply, birthday parties, they would go over the menus and spend the day shopping for ingredients, and my sisters and I would help with the preparations to get all of the food to the table. I loved it!

I was born in Indonesia and I grew up in many kitchens. My mom used to be a chef and a private caterer; and one of my fondest childhood memories is following her from one kitchen to another. I enjoyed watching the excitement of assembling forty 'mini black-forest gateaux with blueberry filling topped with chocolate ganache and candied cherries' all at the same time. I sat quietly, observing every move and the 'excitement', or chaos as my mom would say, whilst waiting if there's any extra food... and there's always extra food.

The good times that came from cooking as a family got me psyched about food in general, and I wanted more than anything to be a great cook. When I started cooking as a kid, I tried to recreate what I watched on TV or what I saw in books. One of my favourite books as a kid was strangely, an old French cooking book. To be honest, it wasn't the best way to start, if you know how complicated French cuisine can be. I spent hours to make 'cream of broccoli soup', that involved white chocolate as one of the ingredients. At nine years old, I had to give myself some credit.

I then began with many simple things, like making egg fried rice or easy pasta dishes, and I couldn't stop. Cooking was my first love and I fell hard, really hard. I found cooking to be incredibly enjoyable and relaxing. I can truly express how I feel and what I want other people to feel through food. It's a way of saying 'thank you', or 'I'm sorry', or 'let's celebrate!!'.

My fascination with food and cooking was bigger than ever when I went to high school in America. One day I flicked through the TV channels and I found the 'Food Network'. Ever since then, it was pretty much the TV I watched. I remembered sprinting home after school, so that I wouldn't miss 30 Minute-Meals, Everyday Italian, Barefoot Contessa, Semi-Homemade and Easy Entertaining. For me it was like attending my private cooking class with personal mentors. I learned many cooking terminologies and techniques by watching these programmes and I owe these chefs for the inspirations they've given me.

I went to University in the UK and I lived with a group of new friends. I remembered making them my 'Spaghetti with Chicken Ragu' on the second night and the next thing I knew soon my meals became a custom. I cooked for almost every day and many of my recipes have become personal favourites of my friends. However, I won't hide the fact that many times the recipe turned out to be disastrous. But we all just laughed about it. I think those kinds of good times and memories are what cooking is all about.

Sadly, but, yes, I keep a journal of what I have cooked and during my spare time I like to write recipe ideas. When someone asks, 'What is your specialty?', I'm not quite sure what is the answer, though looking at the ingredients I regularly used, many of them are Italians in origin, but then it's still arguable. The thing is I'm not afraid to try new things and to explore what is out there and what can be made from an ingredient.

I like to travel and I use food as reminders of the good times I've had, just like a vacation scrapbook I guess. My coconut ice-cream always brings me back to the beautiful days in Barcelona or the wonderful date I had with my girlfriend. Whenever I make my grilled chicken wrap, it reminds me of the New York City trip I took when I was in high school. My friends and I had this sandwich from one of the corner stands not far from Rockefeller Centre and it was cheap and delish! However I also often make things from places I've never been, but am inspired with, wishing that one day I'll be able to visit them.

I gained so much confident over the past few years with my cooking and I'm always honoured when people ask me to cook for their parties. I love to entertain and I find food to be the best way to gather people around and to have a good time.

Now, I'm pretty much your average next door guy. Last year, I graduated from media, cultures and communication studies. I am now working for the University, liaising with various student queries. I live on my own and like going out with friends whenever I can. However, I have found that some of the best times my friend and I usually have happen when I cook up some good food and have bunch of people over to my place. I like easy and simple family style food that is all about sharing; nothing so fancy and complicated that people are afraid to eat it.

But then again, just like everything else, cooking has it's time and place. Many of my friends think that I always eat gourmet food for every meal. After a long tiring day at work, my kind of meal would be 'beans on toast' or 'oven chips with gravy', or if I have the patience to wait, I'd order a good Indian take-out. Add a bottle or two of cider, glass full of ice, sit in front of the TV, and I'm in heaven.

But whenever I can, I believe that home-cooked meals are the best excuse for a good time and the easiest way to make any good time better. That's why I started this blog. I wanted to share my stories and the food that brought people together. I also hope people would share their stories with me.

When I started writing about food, I wanted to make clear that the goal is not just the end product. It's always good to know that the food looks appealing and most importantly, tasty... but I believe that the process and the story behind it, makes the food even more exciting.

Last but not least, I also want to publicly say, "Mom and Dad, Thank You..."