Category Archives: Travel

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.

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!

Running on Empty

When things are hard and life seems so unstable and I have run as fast as I can and have still not outrun my problems or my life, I go back to what works. I cook. I felt flat today, totally exhausted. I came back from a 10 day holiday in Amsterdam, Florence and then several days on Lake Como (yes, that is where the handsome George Clooney owns a home – I think he was elsewhere when I was there, maybe Venice?). The lake was incredible but the mountains that surrounded it are what called attention to it, are what made it special.

But I came home to chaos. I’m not good at traveling though I should be an expert having done it for business (and sometimes pleasure) for most of my life. It is still hard for me. I am a Taurus and like my home and what is familiar. This trip was not planned… it was a way to get away from the construction going on in my home. While I was gone the builders tore out the walls in my bedroom and the bathroom that used to hold the bathtub. These two rooms, for now, no longer exist. I came home from the airport at 10 last night to an inch of dust on the floor and walls of the entry and main hallway. Worse was the loss of my comfort, my bedroom and bathroom. My living room, kitchen and dining room are all as they were when I left them, sealed off as they were by layers of plastic sheeting and tape. But what good is a kitchen when there is no bedroom (for now)?

After spending the day cleaning up the dust so I can welcome a hen party here at the Nomad Chef for dinner tomorrow (hoping they will understand the wall of brick that was only a week ago covered with plaster and paint) and after traveling when I didn’t really feel like leaving my home in the month of the 3 year anniversary of the death of my son, the original Nomad Chef, I was running on empty.

And then I started planning the menu for the dinner. What can I cook for the starter? And what combination of cuisines do I feel like for tomorrow night’s mashup? Hmmm…. Mexican, Japanese, Singaporian and American (from the comfort food center of the southern states) feel right. I surfed cookbooks, my notes, and websites for the perfect recipes that would give me back my center. And within minutes I’d filled my tank. I was no longer running on fumes, deplete of energy by my struggle to juggle and handle and get through things – just the thought of food and the preparation of it had filled me right up. Thinking of food is almost as good as cooking it and eating it. I was off and running. Tonight I will sleep easier on my temporary bed, the couch, and tomorrow I’ll fill my tank by cooking and serving food that I love. I’ll offer that love up to a group of complete strangers. The challenges I have and the mountains I have to climb have somehow turned my half empty building site of a home into a calm clear lake next to which I can repose myself – the comfort of food.

I’m traveling again soon. There are only so many days one can go without a shower. But I’ll be home again soon and the Nomad Chef will be open for business (and for comfort). Come fill your tank on the 8th of October when our dinner menu will be inspired by my road trip diaries.

Home again

I’m home from about a month away – back from the Nomad Chef road trip. I guess I’m no good at doing more than one thing at once. Can’t walk and chew gum. Can’t travel and write. Well, I’m a bit of a disappointment to myself in that regard. I should have been writing and posting little vignettes the whole time. But I was too busy traveling, cooking and eating….er, umm… and drinking too. But I’m back! And I’ve got a whole new perspective.

The Nomad Chef: Mouths Wide Shut (dinner) was a revelation. Two days before the dinner only 7 people had reserved seats, probably 6 of them my son’s friends and the 7th perhaps a friend of one of my co-chefs. But by the end of the flight (yes, Virgin America has internet and powerpoints!), a 5 hour flight, the number climbed to 22! I rushed to turn off the ticket registration function. Sold out! Wow, what a difference a few hours and the anticipation of failure can make! As I was driving from the airport to the beautiful house I rented for our week in Beverly Hills, I made a few calls (of course, on my hands free!) and somehow managed to organize the rental of more tables and chairs. I love how things work in California (or at least in LaLa land) – last minute incredible service. And I reopened the ticketing function on our website. In hours we were up to 35 people. Who were all of these people? No doubt, friends… of friends, and strangers who had yet to become my friends. In the end we had about 40 people! And I personally knew less than 10 of them! Now I know them all!

The house was truly amazing. An old school Beverly Hills home set on tree lined Rodeo Drive. It was purchased by the current owner’s father in 1941, from Joseph Kennedy (yep, JFK’s dad!). And I doubt anything has changed since then. Beautiful paintings on the wall are the only ones who can still remember the titillating conversations that must have been had there in the 30s and 40s among icons that included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and John Kennedy. We felt like film stars and famous producers ourselves in this magical home. And the owners were on hand to lend their hands for every step of our new, if temporary, life in LA.

Lovely appetizers were prepared by a beautiful actress and co-chef; European influences to complement the mostly Asian fusion repas. Then raw oysters and oyster pie were the first course of this erotic dinner. (Side note: Earlier in the week I was forced to wonder at some of the reactions of would-be dinner guests. Apparently a few had asked the friend’s of friends who’d invited them about what to expect with a theme that was clearly a nod to Kubrick. “It’s just a dinner party where girls get to wear high heels,” I responded a little too forcefully (due to shock). Were they really expecting me to invite my son’s friends to some kind of fettish party? Hmmm… There are certainly some differences between Beverly Hills and London.) I’d carefully prepared and frozen the Nomad Chef special green curry paste which I used for the 2nd course (Thai green curry with shitake mushrooms); not exactly erotic but one of our standards that I wanted to share with my new friends. Next was either steak au poivre or tofu with a peanut mole sauce and assorted side dishes. But the crowning glory was prepared by one of my co-chefs: a chocolate trio of dark truffles with sea salt, home made chocolate ice cream with chipotle peppers and a chocolate cookie. These provided a truly orgasmic end to a dinner that lasted into the wee hours of the night.

So, I’m home again, jiggity jig. And happy to be here. It is only by leaving that we often appreciate even more what we’ve left behind. In true Nomad fashion I will look forward to future road trips. The next one will include Napa Valley. Although I came home to a house that is still empty of my son’s physical presence, I felt him in all of his old haunts. While struggling in LA as an actor he had even cooked for someone who lived right around the corner from the house I rented in Beverly Hills. I felt his presence everywhere. Now that I’m home again I will be conjuring his spirit in all of the Nomad Chef dinners here. I’m sure his spirit is as nomadic as he was, just as I am. We were both happy on the road and happy at home.

Losing things, and finding others

The Nomad Chef road show, road movie prep continues. On Tuesday I flew with a cameraman and all of his beautiful equipment, to capture some footage of Susana, my beautiful fellow traveler on this journey. Tools are a very important part of the trade – whether cooking or shooting a film. In a screenplay, this part of the film is called the set up. It is where we see the characters in the world where the story takes place. It is how we, the audience, get to know the characters. And for the first 10 minutes of a film we get an idea of what the theme of the film is about. Sometimes there is a slow start. Life is in balance. But we know that something is coming. The rug is pulled out from under the protagonist. That’s me. Not even a week into filming and a rug was pulled out.

Some films start with a big action scene, like in James Bond movies. But how dramatic can a documentary about two women of a certain age trying to re-invent themselves on a road trip be? We’re not talking about Thelma and Louise here. Susana is rebounding from a relationship where she put her singing career on hold for 5 years, and I’m trying to find a way to fill the hole that was created with the loss of my son. I thought I’d document our journey to New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley – the destinations providing wonderful backdrops for what is really an inner journey that sometimes for one, and often for the other, is a bleak and lonely trek. The trip is supposed to be fun, a reward for having survived difficult things. We’ve gathered a few minor characters into the mix, a couple of people who heard about the adventure and wanted to visit these iconic locations. I am, by default, the tour guide.

After Berlin, where Susana is hoping to live at least half time and where she has found a new manager, our plan was to meet again in Madrid, her birth home. I’ve never been there and neither had the cameraman. Susana was our host. Day 1 of the 3 of us being together. The first day of a 2 ½ day trip – simple prep (in food speak, but translate to flim speak, i.e., cutaway shots)… a little background. Two hours after we’d arrived and had eaten at a little restaurant on a beautiful square where I was assured that I could find something vegetarian (a much bigger challenge in Spain than in most other southern European countries), we jumped into the cab. Next stop, Susana’s recording studio.

The cameraman leaps out of the cab to run into a little shop for batteries for the microphones. Susana pays the taxi driver and she and I leisurely get out. Just as it was driving away the cameraman shouts, “Hey, where’s my equipment?” We thought he had it with him. He assumed we were guarding it. The taxi thinks (perhaps) he might have found a hidden treasure in the trunk of his car. Cut to CHASE SCENE: The cameraman runs down the street screaming after a white taxi (they are all white in Madrid). Susana jumps into another taxi to take chase. And I am left standing on a street corner in a city I’ve never even visited before.

Two days later, after a visit to the police station, 50 calls to taxi companies and the lost objects number, there is still no sign of the equipment. It is all insured, but not likely to be replaced by Monday when leg two of our journey begins. I have a plan B and a plan C, but no one likes to lose their stuff even when it is insured. We lost about 24 hours of what was meant to be a lovely tour of Madrid, good restaurants and a chance to see how well we hang out together. I know about loss. There is no insurance for what I’ve lost. But that doesn’t make anyone else feel any better.

The only short-term solution I can think of to lighten the mood is a good meal. It always works for me. Food is love and comfort. I needed both. We ate at ESTADO PURO, “pure state” where  Paco Roncero is the chef. He is a former student and business partner of the famed El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. Great food is my secret remedy. These nuevas tapas (nouvelle cuisine in tapas) righted for me most of what was wrong. My cameraman was still feeling the loss of his stuff, but even he laughed and smiled while we ate. I’m sure it helped a ton that we sat at the bar next to a beautiful young French actress sitting all by herself. She’d just finished a day of shooting for a TV commercial. We lost some tools but found new friends – nuevos amigos. And she wants to find a house in Paris for the traveling Nomad Chef to do one of our traveling dinners. It is true that some losses are irreplaceable. But there are others that are not as serious and can lead to surprising encounters and lovely new friends. All good films, like lives, include losses. We just started having them at the very beginning of the journey. I guess it is all about how we tell our stories that is important, how we find something to hold onto. Maybe the rug was pulled out from under us, but we’re on a magic carpet ride and… we’re flying.