I was always the “weird kid” in my family.
An outlier among a group of people who were a norm of normal eaters back in the 1970’s, I was in awe of a strange funny-sounding woman who cooked things I had never seen before on the Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW.
Julia Child opened a whole new world for me. In between watching Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, I took in the great lady’s lessons about classic French technique.
My parents were Southern Blacks whose families came “up North” for economic opportunity, greater freedom, and a chance at a better life. My father became the first black salesmans for RJ Reynolds/Nabisco in northern Indiana. Among the many prizes he won for salesmanship at work included a bright red electric wok.
No other person we knew had a wok. We were the only ones learning to make our own Chinese food. Exposure to this inspired me to learn more. A bright red wok, PBS, and my insatiable curiosity were the foundations of my adventurous palate.
After begging for three years I received a wok of my own for my twelfth birthday. I continued to experience other places and cultures through the only way I knew: PBS. Martin Yan showed me how to apply my wok and create Chinese dishes. In addition to food, the class symbolism of chopsticks was a topic I became exposed to. Culture dictated a cook to do the work of preparing food into bite-sized pieces. Rather than cut with fork and knife, a diner only had to eat and enjoy themselves.
Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, taught me about the culture and conditions that made the food the way it was. Red beans and rice wasn’t just a signature dish- it was a way for poor blacks to make a slow cooked meal during wash day that didn’t need to be fussed over. Each dishes and cooking techniques was a reason for the dish and the technique involved.
The travelogues transported me to different world locales. France, Germany, and the Orient were companions on cold winter days where I would dream of traveling overseas. Someday I hope to visit places like Vietnam, Provence, and Ireland, but at least I have resources like the internet, occasional access to cable channels, and my old standby PBS. I am still inspired to pursue my culinary adventures here in Chicago with its incredible ethnic markets, eateries, and city food events. I am fortunate to be able to take a trip around the world on a plate with a passport in the form of the CTA.
Komala Hayes is from Gary, IN and resides in Chicago where she obtaining a Master’s degree in Sociological Theory, Culture and Food. For Komala, the perfect meal can be had in many places, and inspiration fuels discovery, experimentation, and learning. She draws culinary inspiration from her mom, Julia Child, PBS and libraries -as they all take her to different worlds. She is currently working on a short science fiction story based on the concept of imaginary time.