At Christmas 2008 I received the food critic’s memoir, Never Order Chicken on a Monday from a Secret Santa who accompanied his gift with a note encouraging me to explore my true calling as a gourmet. In hindsight, I realize how certain seemingly minor incidents and the advice of well-meaning mentors can turn out to be life-defining.
I am a consultant, and although I am primarily based in London, my job has given me the opportunity to work all over Europe and the United States. Travel for business can be especially grueling. I have heard more than one colleague complain that the sort of travel required of the consultant is not travel at all- “I only saw the skyline from the airplane window and the inside of the client’s office.” While it is undeniable that business travel leaves less time for traditional tourist pursuits such as viewing a city’s historic monuments, perhaps it an overemphasis on experiencing a new place through seeing that causes dissatisfaction. To me, meals have come to serve as a welcome respite from long hours in front of a computer screen- often the only legitimate break- a thrill to commemorate with a photograph. When we travel it is the suspension of our everyday routine that can lead to new insights and sensory delights. By redefining what it means to have travelled according to the sensory experience of taste, no matter how many planes, ships, or trains I must board in the course of my personal and professional life, visiting new places will always hold a certain sense of wonder.
While attending Harvard University I was elected to the Signet Society, a community of artists and writers that I was eager to join not least because of the daily home-cooked spread served within its walls was far superior to any dining hall. It was among my fellow members that a real reverence for the ritual of the meal developed, along with my interests in photography and writing. I believe that art should evoke sensory pleasure and promote discourse. The public presentation of an individual’s taste- prevalent in the genre of the restaurant review- is particularly conducive to both these characteristics. Although meals are by nature evanescent, the evidentiary function of photography allows us to capture that which deserves commemoration long after the last morsel has been digested. Indeed, commentary often seems superfluous; images alone can provoke audience reaction and interaction.
From its beginning as an album on Facebook to its current incarnation as a blog, Really Good Food has become a central part of my identity. RGF is important to me because it is a means of self expression that allows me to create content on a daily basis and also forces me to put myself a little bit on display. In childhood I was an avid singer but also suffered from paralyzing stage fright; what if the audience hated my voice or I made some terrible blunder? It is very insulating to hide behind a camera and to write in isolation and to consume content and food passively instead of having to interact with people. By making use of social media to write for an audience, I am brought out of my comfort zone and into a thrilling and dangerous public space. I love being able to share my thoughts on the food that I love with friends, family, and the wider world in the hope that they will be engaged and love it too. Even though I have found that people often make value judgments about me because of my hobby, I try to reassure myself that it is okay to be unapologetic about passion.
From growing up as a shy, picky eater in the food capital of the world, Singapore, to becoming a global citizen and omnivore, I have come a long way. Thank you for coming. I hope that something you have seen or read inspires you to take more risks- you never know when choosing an “adventurous” dish like sea urchin or lingering a little longer over the dessert menu could lead to great and unexpected pleasure.