Category Archives: Music

A love story

In about a week, February 14th – Valentine’s Day, the Nomad Chef will be celebrating its 4th birthday. It’s so hard to imagine that so much time has passed since I first started welcoming all of you strangers into my home. A lot of love has come through here.

I thought I would take a little stroll down memory lane, a kind of blog-post retrospective for those of you who don’t know me. So I’ve included a few links to some old blog posts I wrote.

Although I didn’t think of it until the day after the first Nomad Chef dinner, I was probably destined to have a supper club.  I was born in a house in Seattle where my grandparents had a secret bar and night club in their basement. So I guess the secret is in my genes.

But there is much more to the story. Four years ago was only one year after my son and only child died. I had just lost the company where we both worked together due to the banking crisis. I had lost everything. And I was lost. One day a friend of my son’s was sitting in my conservatory with me, talking about this and that. She suddenly asked, “Why don’t you have any of the big dinner parties like you used to have with Shaka (my son)?” I thought the answer was obvious. I was heartbroken, paralyzed by grief and very broke. She said, “you should do one of those supper clubs.”  I had no idea what she was talking about. But then she explained and two weeks later I had the first Nomad Chef dinner – on Valentine’s Day. It is kind of a love story.

My son was an actor and while he lived in LA he private cheffed while waiting for acting parts. In New York he worked in posh restaurants while writing. And then he opened a fusion restaurant in Deia (Mallorca, Spain), where he worked for a year before moving back to London where I was living and where he had spent his teenage years. Before he started working with me in my tech start-up he started a catering company called the Nomad Chef. When he died I guess he passed me the baton.

We had so many good times cooking together. I was a single mom with an only boy child. I wasn’t into action figures so we cooked. And we went out to dinners at wonderful restaurants. We took long camping trips interrupted by stays in nice hotels with amazing food. Our lives together and separately revolved around food. It seemed only appropriate to honor him by taking the baton. So, the Nomad Chef was reborn. I talked about resurrection in one of my early blog posts. I didn’t know it at the time, but inviting strangers into my home for dinner, music and laughter was the way I literally cooked my way out of the darkness.

I will always miss my son, but I’ve filled my home in Holland Park with fun and crazy strangers. I have a new family now. We eat in a glass conservatory, under the stars. I’ve had the nudists (thankfully they came fully dressed) and all kinds of wonderful, quirky, beautiful people. Once we had a private birthday dinner for a doctor and her doctor friends. Of the more than 2000 people who have come to eat here, it’s the only time I’ve had to ask people to leave. They were nice, but so very drunk! I’ve cooked in art galleries and studios, in New York and Beverly Hills. But one night in Paris I invited a couple of guys to come for a meal in London when they were in town. I’m used to inviting people over, but when they called me from a London train station announcing they were here I wondered if I was just a little too crazy. I didn’t even have a dinner planned. Not sure what I was thinking, but I was so relieved to find out they were American military guys and not axe murderers. And now we are great friends. Part of my new family.

It’s all about the spice. Like life. I wish I could say it was possible to avoid bad things happening. But it is not. Life is filled with totally unexpected things. There are some very hard times in life and I wonder if the cure is in the disease, if the only way out of hard times is through intensity of another sort. Do I love spicy food because it is so intense that it helps clear my mind, bringing me into the present, helping me to forget the things in life that have been difficult… at least for a few moments or during a meal? Are spices like the Day of the Dead rituals where we drink to those we’ve lost, honor the dead with music and food as a way of going forward? My mom cooked Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and every other cuisine she could find filled with spice. I cooked the same way for my son. It’s not just the secret restaurant that is in my genes; it is also the spice. Maybe it is just that simple – I LOVE spices, just as much as I love meeting strangers.

We have a dinner scheduled for Valentine’s Day this year to celebrate our 4th birthday. Whether you’ve been here or not, I love you. It is through finding and getting to know complete strangers that I keep the love and spice flowing in my life. Someone once said to me, “strangers are just the friends you haven’t yet met.”

Thank you all for giving me 4 great years, helping me write a new love story and a new script for a new life. Nomads find the best stuff and pass it on. Happy Birthday to the original Nomad Chef, and to the one following in his footsteps.

Heart and Soul Food!

I’ve just come back from a whirlwind road trip. It actually started a few weeks ago when I went to Boston (to screen my film at the Boston Film Festival, which you can read about here or here). I came home for a few days to cook for a dinner being held at the Debut Contemporary Gallery in Notting Hill before jumping on a plane for San Francisco. We’ve started collaborating on these dinners. The innovative gallery put artists and collectors together. And we put people and food together – a great combination for a smashing evening, that was spotted by Tatler magazine. You can read about it here. We’ll be doing another one on October 24th! And then every month after (except in December). This is the Art in HeArt.

I was shortly back on the road – this time to San Francisco. The day after I arrived, jet lag and all, I cooked dinner for 30 people who had gathered to remember a dear friend who died a few months earlier. We were all heartbroken when Chris Andrews so suddenly died. I didn’t make it to his memorial service so was happy when one of his friends decided to organize an evening of dining, dancing and live music at her hilltop house in Tiburon (google if you don’t know where it is – it is so beautiful there). Food is all about comfort. The beautiful and dynamic Cynthia from a Napa wine making family, our hostess, paired lovely wines with our aching souls and I cooked my heart out, wishing Chris could have been with us and felt our love. Cynthia and friends sang their hearts out. Victoria Theodore performed, playing a magnificent piano and sang her heart out too. Cooking is what I do when I’m sad. And feeding people is what I do when they’re sad. So it was a perfect equation. Soul Food.

Then I was off to Los Angeles, where my film screened again, this time in the LA Femme International Film Festival. I was happy to be surrounded there by women filmmakers (and friends) when I screened my film about the inner journey I have taken since my son died. It is not easy for me to see him on the big screen, or even in little photos. And so I did the only thing I could do while staying in a hotel – I went to a friend’s house and made curry popcorn. It was all I could muster under the circumstances.

My son would be proud of me for cooking and creating in spite of such a huge hole in my life. He was the artist (actor and writer) and chef. Now I’m just following in his footsteps, doing things that remind me of him. It’s all about heart and soul food. That’s what we need as humans.

Next dinner here at the Nomad Chef is on Friday, October 26th. Then Thanksgiving (Saturday November 24th; more info soon)! And I’ll be doing another dinner on the road, the 22nd of November in Vienna! Stay tuned…

Big events at the Nomad Chef!

I think I live for big events. I am a Taurean and very earth bound, so it probably takes a bunch of energy to combat my natural inertia.  Planning an event focuses the mind, and harnesses that core energy that is buried deep within me, this stubborn Taurean. I love planning parties, dinners, and organizing things. When I’m sad or stressed I need a big distraction.

Food works the same way. A meal is an event. I rely on the creation of a menu to give me a boost whenever I’m sitting on the couch trying to figure out what to do. Fortunately, I don’t have that many hours in any given day when I am sitting on the couch. But those quiet moments are sometimes difficult for me. I am living my life with a huge missing piece. The missing piece is sometimes so noticeable to me that I wonder how I can even walk, let alone cook. But the only way forward, the only way through, is to make a big plan or make a big meal.

This summer while everyone is celebrating something in London – the Olympics, football, or art – I decided to jump into the fray. Think of all of the lovely strangers who will be visiting our city for one reason or another. I want to meet them, or as many of them as possible! What better way than for a big event! We’ll be hosting several dinners and lunches at our normal Holland Park digs. But we needed a bigger venue to invite even more people! So we decided to do much more than usual, in the spirit of the Olympics! We are going for the theme of five – five courses, five artists showing their work, and five different musicians or spoken word artists. And food will be curated from 5 different continents. We’re hoping that all of regulars, those who frequent Nomad Chef often, will join us in welcoming people from all over the world to our pop-up dinner on the 28th of July.

The Nomad Chef Pop-Up London 2012: Great Dining Event!  is your chance to take a tour of the world in a single, beautiful dining room. (If you are an artist or musician who would like to participate in this, let us know.)

See there! Just writing about this big event has worked like a big, beautiful bar of dark chocolate. Whatever I was worrying about has simply disappeared! I hope that you will spread the word, join us and feel the excitement of summer in London!

All the way back home

I’ve been home a few weeks now, but somehow it took until now to really feel like I’m home. Last night we hosted our first dinner concert at the Nomad Chef. We often have live music and have even done a house concert where we served canapés. But this one was special. It was a magical evening, one that inspired me in so many ways. We were packed, 24 guests, sold out days before the evening.  There were three musicians. Two of the artists came from the US to do a 10 day tour with the friend who organized it, a friend they knew from New York. It was day 2 of their tour.


A Gig with Alex Berger, Chrissi Poland and Caleb Hawley @ Nomad Chef Music from kozue nagano on Vimeo.

The menu worked well, or so say the guests, a typical fusion of multiple cultures. We started with guacamole and chips served with Dirty Soho Mojitos, what I may start thinking of as our signature cocktail (Soho Lychee liqueur, Zacapa dark rum, lime juice, mint, sugar and sparkling water). And then we started the meal with clams with spicy black bean sauce (Chinese). I tried to get razor clams, and in fact called all over London for them. Sadly there were none. I think that those nameless people who normally dig for clams were too busy enjoying the sun on the weekend to bother with the digging. My loss… their gain. Anyway, even though the little clams weren’t exactly what I wanted, I’m sure my guests didn’t notice they were missing those elegant, long tubes that look so lovely on the plate. Next was another Mexican component, a vegetarian enchilada casserole with our signature salad dressing (grated garlic and ginger, fig balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice and olive oil). And then a lamb Mrouzi that simmered for hours with no less than 15 freshly ground spices and tons of onions and raisins, among other typical Moroccan ingredients. And last, but not least, the pudding – crepes made with some of the lovely (and very expensive) Zacapa rum, with a hot toffee sauce and chantilly (otherwise known as whipped cream) served with the same rum, but this time served as it should be, neat.  Yummm…. You heard it here first!

Tonight was day 3 for the “US and Brit” tour, which included the same incredible musicians that graced the Nomad Chef dinner: Alex Berger, Chrissi Poland and Caleb Hawley. I’m not sure if the “US” is meant to mean the United States or just simply “us” as in “us or them” but it kind of sums up my own identity. I’m an American girl living here in the UK, a kind of honorary Brit – US and Brit. Tonight was a kind of reunion for me with them, a 24 hours later reunion where this time I got to sit and listen and watch without thinking about the food I was either cooking, plating or serving. And musically their gig tonight was a fusion of culture and genres. The little red headed wonder white girl, Chrissi Poland, sings soul music as if she has lived the pain of all of my African American ancestors. Alex Berger sings something that is pretty cross-genre but in some way reminds me of the kind of music that only legends like Barbra Streisand can pull off, and he does just that but with his own original sound and style. Then Caleb Hawley plays the frets off his guitar with one hand that seems like 2 (or more) and a voice that matches the wizardry of his instrument (the wooden one). The music tonight was a lovely dessert for me. I took a few friends and some others met me there. Though English, Alex Berger somehow feels like an American to me. He gives the best hugs of anyone I know in this country, something I imagine him learning during his 6 years in New York. So when his two friends, Chrissi and Caleb arrived and gave me a hug I felt transported into the arms of my birth country, California, where hugging is as instinctual as breathing… not so in my adopted country.

And this is where it gets a little emotional for me. There are advantages to being the busy chef and hostess when this kind of music is being sung in my beautiful conservatory, when I can hear it but don’t have the time to react. Tonight I was fully present to the words and the music. I cried a lot. Chrissi sang, “Trying to hold your heart in your hands and all it does is bleed,” and I felt she was speaking the words I feel so much of the time, “Angel Weep For Me.” My own heart is bleeding from the surgical removal of my son from this life, from my life, and there is no one who can hold the blood that pours out of my wounded heart, least of all me.  “So you call on the angels….. And you say, ‘angels wait for me,’” and that is me… asking my son the angel that he is now to wait for me. I heard this song last night, but saved the feeling and crying for tonight when I heard it for the second time.

And then, Caleb sang these words in Other Side of It, “Ever since the world began, when people go down they get right back up again.” I’m not sure that it’s true for me. I always used to get back up but I haven’t gotten right back up again from my latest and biggest blow ever, but I am sincerely trying. Maybe ‘right back up’ isn’t meant to be taken literally… maybe a space of a few years still counts as getting back up again, or maybe going out and being in the world counts too, even if it is not always completely standing. And, “I know that it’s hard to imagine, But it’s gonna happen – and I’ll see on the other side of the all.” It is hard for me to imagine getting beyond my loss, but I’m going to trust this lovely young man’s faith because I’ve lost my own.

I grew up around a lot of musicians and there were often jam sessions in my house. So it is kind of a full circle kind of thing that I now have a house where there are lots of musicians coming to play and eat; like mother, like daughter. While I was listening to the music tonight I realized that I once had a family of two, that was zeroed out when my son died. 2-1 does not equal 1. He was the whole that was greater than the sum of the parts and I was left with zero. Yet I feel the tiny little green shoots of a new family. I saw them tonight. I’ve adopted Alex into my new family and through him some of his friends. I saw many of them tonight at the North London Tavern. I need this new family. It’s one of the reasons I opened the Nomad Chef – to meet the strangers who have yet to become my friends. There will never be a replacement for my irreplaceable, beautiful, bright, creative son. But I felt his arms around me tonight, a big, tight, California hug.  The music embraced me. I cried but felt something or someone holding me.

Caleb sang another song, a Randy Newman cover, with what I could almost imagine singing myself:

A window breaks down a long dark street
And a siren wails in the night
But I’m alright cause I have you here with me
And I can almost see through the dark there is light…

Feels like I’m all the way back home where I come from

And the evening ended with the three beautiful musicians singing James Taylor’s, You Got a Friend…“You just call out my name and I’ll be there.”  I wondered who was really singing to me tonight? Was it my very own little angel, my son, who wanted me to know that he’s always here with me even when I can’t feel him? Sometimes I have to listen to the music to hear him between the notes. For a little while tonight it felt like I was all the way back home where I came from and that he was here with me.

Curation of culture and cuisine

Our next three dinners will be:
26 January (Sensuous, Sexy South Beach)

2 February (Year of the Rabbit Dinner)

19 February (noMAD MEN & Women).

Driving through London today I couldn’t help but notice all of the museums. This got me thinking about this idea of curation. In a museum or gallery a curator is responsible for the study, acquisition and care of objects, these works of art being presented to the public. The history and cultural heritage of the pieces created by the artists are important in the communication of their work, the pleasure given to the observers of their work. While I am not responsible for the design and placement of of great works of art in museums, I recognize the importance of the knowledge that goes into their selection and am happy that there are those more suited than I to present them in ways that allow me to get a glimpse of what the artist had in mind, where he or she was living at the time and the cultural context or their work.

It doesn’t take much to realize that the images carefully inserted above have nothing to do with each other. It would make more sense that the curator has a funny sense of post-modern humor. But in fact, while the themes of our dinners here at the Nomad Chef seem to have little to do with each other, the dinners themselves are carefully curated. Tomorrow’s dinner, for example is called Nomad Chef: Anti-antebellum, a lovely play on words to evoke a sense of rebellion (the root of the word ‘bellum’) and rebellion against the plantation culture of the South (in the US) during slavery. But for all of our horror at the thought of slavery, we cannot help but celebrate the food that came out of the South during that time, with its many cultural influences (French, English, Caribbean, African and more). So while we will be serving some traditional fare (gumbo with crab, shrimp, oysters and squid), we will spice it up with some totally unexpected treats from France and Southeast Asia.

The attention to detail paid to our seemingly random fusing of cultures and cuisines is just as important when curating the ambiance. The strangers who come are as important as our frequent visitors, and the conversational lubricant is the carefully cultivated aperitif where people and the fragrance of food mingle. We are lucky to have amazing musicians who sing for their supper, singer songwriters who try out their new material on us in exchange for the opportunity to eat and talk with the self selecting adventurers who choose to travel the world while sitting at a table at the Nomad Chef.

Museum curators may be partial to particular artists or particular works, but I am as passionate about each dinner theme as I am about each dinner and dish. But I am even more passionate about those who join us in our culinary adventures. I am not sure we have something for everyone but for everyone who comes through our doors we have a tremendous appreciation and delight. The stories they tell and the lives they lead are the artifacts they leave behind. And as urban nomads, we find the best stuff and pass it on. Our pleasure comes from finding the culture and cuisine that we love and passing it on to you with love, giving you a greater appreciation of the art of food.

The secret is in my genes

two generations of jazz

Mother and Son Jazz Musicians in the 30s

I was born in a house where the basement served as a secret bar and nightclub, a small hotel, and the first stop for black jazz musicians coming to Seattle to perform in the first half of the 1900s.

I was born in my grandparent’s house in Seattle while they were living in Alaska. They were musicians, but like many musicians, they had to earn their money elsewhere. My parents lived in their house while they were away.  I came home from the hospital to the bed that was my dad’s his whole life until he moved in with my mom and went to college. My grandfather was a plasterer, one of the first black plasterers in Seattle, the first to be allowed to join the union in Seattle. During the 50s my grandfather got work on the Bearing Straight where massive construction was going on so their house was available to us.

But when my grandparents first got married they were both musicians. My grandpa played the drums, and my grandmother played the piano. That was jazz in the 20s and 30s. Although Seattle didn’t have the race laws that prevented blacks from going to certain public places, like hotels, black musicians were well used to having to stay with friends when on tour in US cities. My house, well, my grandparent’s house that later became mine for a time, was the place where all black musicians came to stay and play in the 20s and 30s and 40s. I don’t know where they slept when they stayed because it was a small 2 bedroom house just off Yesler Street in Seattle, not far from Jackson Street which now is finally given for being the center of Seattle Jazz. My grandfather built this house himself. It is small for the neighborhood, but I’m sure it was more room than he had ever lived in, growing up as he did in a family of 13 children.

There was a basement. It wasn’t really a basement to me when I was a child. And it certainly wasn’t just a basement to some of the greatest American jazz musicians who spent countless nights jamming and drinking there. It was a nightclub, a secret musical paradise, a welcome port in the storm for weary musicians – Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Erskine Hawkins, Lena Horne and countless others on tour. It was a second home to Seattle musicians like Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson and Buddy Catlett. When I was small the only musicians who played the piano down there were my dad and my grandmother, but mostly they played the baby grand squeezed into the tiny living room upstairs. I could imagine the basement filled with smoke and people, the black and white photos on the walls that included one of my dad’s band playing behind Billy Holiday. There was a real bar with bar stools and I often snuck down there years later when my grandfather had moved down there, when he was no longer sleeping with my grandmother in their bedroom. I waited for him to leave and just opened boxes, looked in cupboards and pretended to be a grown up sitting on a bar stool in this mystery wonderland of artifacts from the most influential period in the history of jazz. I didn’t know what it was like at the time, but it crept into my soul, was in my genes and became part of who I am today.

My grandmother, Evelyn Bundy and later Evelyn Taylor, started the Evelyn Bundy Band in 1926, an early and important fixture in the Seattle jazz world. Evelyn played drums, piano, saxophone and banjo. She was the only women on the board of the black music union. My dad was a musician too, and it was in his band that gave Quincy Jones his start. My grandparent’s basement wasn’t a speakeasy because it was built in the late 20s, after prohibition. But was the heart and soul of Seattle jazz and it was certainly secret to those who were not in the know. I guess it is in my genes. I didn’t realize until tonight that my history has been leading me to my destiny. It is no accident that I would have a secret special place for special people in my home, where we jam with food, flavor and friends. I am not a musician, but food is one of my instruments and is music to my soul.