The ocean runs through my bloodline. My great grandfather, a seafaring man, built his life from the abundance of sardines in Turkish waterways. His fishing boats were the sultans of the Dardanelle waterways. His mansion on the ocean’s edge, financed by fish, is where my grandfather Nate was born and raised. As a young man in the Turkish navy, it was certain that Nate’s destiny was to be transported by sea to an untimely battle death. But by a twist of fate he was spared and lived to cross the ocean in a more fulfilling sort of journey – emigration to the United States. Nate’s daughter, my mom, was born in Los Angeles and grew to worship the ocean, spending many days at the beach with family and friends. Watching the sunset over the blue-green horizon was a treasured ritual, and perhaps the only one in life that is always as good as the first time. My family feels a special connection to the ocean. Swimming in the waves is one of life’s best therapies. Invigorated and energized, one exits the salty water ready to face the day. Water has the power to wash away the negative and infuse your mind with spirit.
I grew up listening to maritime tales of my great grandfather, witnessing my grandfather emerge from a jaunt in the waves a new man again and again, and watching my mom’s eyes flutter at the sight of many a setting sun. Once your life is touched in that way, it is hard to venture inland. I have always made it a point to live with access to the coast, from South Carolina, Rhode Island and Florida in the East to Pacific Grove, Ventura and San Diego in the West. Each region is proud of its local delicacies, whether it be sand dabs, spotted prawns, or soft shell crabs – creating excitement and anticipation as each season begins.
As a child, my family’s obsession with tasty food and our habit of gathering in the kitchen inspired me to start cooking. Years before I was tall enough to see above the counter tops, I would spend hours absorbing the sounds, aromas, and orchestrated movements surrounding me. Those experiences started the curiosity and excitement I still feel every time I step into a kitchen. I can close my eyes and revisit those very first impressions of cooking – the rhythmic tapping of efficient knife work, the steel-on-steel swoosh of hand-whipped cream, or the clinking of dishes as the table is prepared in anticipation.
My culinary excursions around the world have done more than allow me to discover native ingredients and cooking methods. The perspective I’ve gained towards life from one destination is fortified at the next. The idea that food is a gift from the earth, that cooking is an act of love, and that eating is socially unifying, are all concepts I’ve learned through travel. Having discovered, dined on and cooked in my own country and abroad is a privilege that I never take for granted. But, being able to share those experiences with others is the best part.