“What did you eat?”
That’s the first question anyone in my family asks when one of us returns from vacation. It’s not, “How was the Eiffel Tower?” or “Did you get to surf?” Nobody in my family asks if you saw one of the eight wonders of the world. They just want to know if you ate wonders of the world of food.
But I wouldn’t call my family “foodies” in the traditional sense. And I sort of loathe that word, anyway. We just grew up with open minds about what we ate, and learned that dining together, eyes wide over the flavor of that toro sashimi or aged ribeye, was a special way of acknowledging how good life could be, if you were open to the possibilities.
“Try it, you may like it,” was my family’s mantra, and making my father proud with our achievements in eating was always a goal.
My mom and dad are terrific cooks, and I learned my skills in the kitchen from both of them equally. In fact, what I learned from my parents, and what they passed on in genetic talent for imagining flavor profiles, helped me with my first college job — working in one of the food service kitchens on campus. I figured, the way I liked to eat, actually working my way through school in restaurants would be a good way to stay fed.
I learned commercial kitchen basics over the course of two years with Marriott University Food Service before taking my talents down to the city of Santa Cruz itself, cooking on the line right behind the bar at a fun beachside burger joint, then moving to a new and extremely busy surf diner. As the owner’s trust in me grew, he left me running the restaurant more and more often. I loved being able to see the full lifespan of a product - from raw materials to preparation to consumption. I loved being able to see, right away, the success or failure of what I’d created.
And, of course, I loved learning to prepare and eat deliciousness every day of the week.
When my job as a scientist in pediatric hematology didn’t pan out (using a micropipette isn’t as sexy as dusting a dish with a pinch of fleur de sel), I went back to cooking, running the line in one of the best restaurants in Denver before making my way up to the gambling towns of Blackhawk and Central City, where I managed entire kitchens.
But something was missing from my life (what little life I had, commuting 90 minutes each way and working six or seven days every week). And when winter came, I was told to fire half of my staff to cut labor costs. Sending 15 financially unstable cooks to the unemployment line in late December is not something a 25-year-old should have to handle. It wasn’t long after that episode that I found myself with a career counselor, looking for an exit strategy.
Many years later, I still wake up from dreams where I’m running the line, calling out orders, and working magic in a kitchen.
But, through all of that, as much as I always loved food, and finished one meal thinking about the next one, you’d never have pegged me as a member of the foodie subculture. I loved putting good stuff in my mouth, appreciated the restaurants of my city, and taught Simone from the time she could eat solid food to try everything (actual conversation before her 2nd birthday: “Simone, do you want Noodles & Company for your birthday dinner?” “No, Daddy! Sushi!”). I was just a guy who knew how to eat well.
So it’s pretty interesting to me how my eating habits have become so wrapped up with my identity.
Mostly, I blame social media.
At first, Facebook made it easy for me to share the occasional photo of something special I’d cooked up in the kitchen, or a restaurant dish that blew me away. It was a slippery slope from there to using Twitter and Foursquare to brag about the latest restaurant opening I’d found my way into, or the meal that was so perfect it almost made me cry. Whether I was in Sevilla or London, Denver or Cleveland, I worked harder and harder to seek out food experiences worth sharing.
And, of course, as my online reputation grew, my identity as a resource for all that is yummy in Denver expanded, as well. You want to know where to eat? I’m your man.
But I’m pretty sure Forkly, which I’ve been using for almost a year, is what turned me into that guy. You know the one — the guy who takes a photo of everything he orders in a restaurant or bar. The one who asks you not to dig into the small plates you're sharing until he gets a picture in just the right light. The one who takes inordinate joy in broadcasting his every bite.
Forkly is my enabler, providing me with a sense of purpose for my obsessive food photography...an excuse, some would say. (And Pinterest is my dealer, giving me way too many ideas for food to cook, and kitchen items I can’t live without.) With Forkly, every food or drink item I describe and rate becomes a resource for restaurant guests who eat there after I do (and, damn, I got a TON of good advice from Forkers for delectable dishes when I was in San Francisco this month).
But the more “tastes” I post, the more responses and followers I receive. Comments, “wants,” new Twitter friends, and free meals for being a “Tastemaker” make for a pretty intoxicating feedback loop. Nothing like getting validation for eating something delicious.
In fact, never before Forkly did I have total strangers — well-known chefs, food bloggers, and other good eaters — tell me they love the way I eat. It’s both weird and awesome to realize there’s a niche group of like-minded people who appreciate my appreciation, cheering for every delectable moment of joy I share on the app.
Because that’s what good food is for me — it’s a moment in time when I am absolutely in the present. Food is a manifestation of the beauty that exists in our everyday lives, if we allow ourselves to be open to it. When you taste the honey glaze on the perfect bite of Korean crispy quail, you’re nowhere else but in the moment. And you don’t want to BE anywhere else.
I do my best to be present in my life, to recognize the beauty and magic around me every single day (and, sometimes, I’m so enamored about it that I tweet or post a status update). Food is the simplest easy win. The roughest day can be softened and redeemed by the right meal. A bite or two of something tasty can be all we need to restore our faith in the world. Whether it’s a sublime combination of locally sourced ingredients, or a simple casserole topped with crispy tater tots, the right bite allows us to appreciate the present moment.
So my “foodie” status and my endless quest for that next delicious taste isn’t about gluttony or an elitist approach to the finer things in life. Dropping a ton of cash for a transcendent meal isn’t about being part of an exclusive experience, just like grubbing on a Double-Double Animal Style isn’t about convenience.
I eat the way I do because I strive to make the most of the magic life has to offer us every day — whether it’s in conversations with the people I love, slowing down to watch the sunset over the mountains, noticing something new about my walk home from the office, or in stopping to take note of what I’m putting in my mouth and savoring the experience, even for a moment.
When I’m taking a bite out of something delicious, I’m taking a bite out of life. Like that first taste of a summer peach, the first sip of hot chocolate on the first snowy day of winter, or the way the skin of a perfect hot dog gives way to your teeth at the first baseball game of the season — eating, for me, is about relish (ha).
It’s about stopping to taste what the world has on offer, all around us, if we only slow down long enough to be fully present to it.
Don’t call me a foodie. Call me a lifie. Just...um...don’t call me late to dinner.