It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since my father passed away. Without Baba, I would not have written “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.” Of all my books it is the one dearest to me.
When I was a child my parents didn’t think it was important to teach me how to cook. Juggling the demands of a full-time job, by the time my mother came home and started cooking the evening meal, it was with brusque efficiency. The tone of the kitchen was not a relaxed atmosphere that encouraged my participating. Nor would my parents have allowed me to “waste” precious food by improperly cutting or incorrectly marinating meat. My Auntie Ivy says that her mother didn’t allowed in in the kitchen because she felt she was in the way. More importantly than learning to cook, Chinese immigrant parents insisted that their children focus their energies on studying and excelling in school.
By the time I was in my thirties, I began recording my family’s recipes. It took much cajoling and persistence to convince my 70-year-old mother and 82-year-old father to teach me the recipes I had grown up eating. Over the next two years I made numerous trips home to San Francisco to cook with them. At first, I thought the purpose of the book was to learn my family’s recipes. Both of my parents were outstanding home cooks. I looked upon the recipes as formulas—wanting to make sure I had all the correct measurements, key ingredients or special techniques properly recorded. To my surprise, as we cooked, my parents, who have always been reticent about conversation, began to share memories of their days in China and of when they first came to America. This is how I came to learn a large part of my family’s history. Through the recording of recipes my family’s legacy was passed on to me.
Thanks to my friend Harrison Jeffs, filmmaker extraordinaire, I was able to create a video to tell the story of how I came to write “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.” I hope it will inspire others to take the time to learn your family’s recipes. As Father’s Day approaches, sending good wishes to fathers all around the world. I will be thinking about Baba…