For Love Of Food
It’s a remarkable thing, finding your life’s passion. There’s nothing better than knowing exactly what you were meant to do.
It was 1970, I was a 21-year-old hippy living in Tucson, Arizona, and I got a job as a dishwasher in a communal vegetarian restaurant for 90 cents an hour. One day, the cook didn’t show so my hippy friends nominated me to take over the kitchen. Chaos led to Nirvana. I felt like I had come home – but it was no home I’d ever known before.
My passion for food grew until I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in 1975. I was already skilled as a vegetarian cook – at CIA, I learned to cook with “real” food: foie gras, sweetbreads, veal cheeks, fresh skate wing and Alaskan halibut.
There, I learned from the best chefs: Richard Czak, a master of the classics. Bruno Elmer, who cooked for Egyptian royalty. Fritz Sonnenschmidt, an expert sausage-maker.
And John Novi, my mentor, my friend, and the guy who set me free in the kitchen. I learned from John that a dedicated chef works and works until he gets it right.
In my career, I’ve cooked with the Culinary Olympic Team, prepared dinner for former Vice President Al Gore, and worked alongside great chefs like Pete Peterson, Emeril Lagasse, and Takashi Yagahashi. I’ve made dinner at top wineries in America, France, and Italy. I prepared a meal at the James Beard House in New York, the culinary great’s former residence-turned-showplace for America’s best food.
I’ve dined in great restaurants and owned some, too. And yet my hunger grows.
We’ve always been a traveling family and my kids share my love of food. We learn the places we go by sampling local cuisine. Yellowtail snapper in Florida. Crispy first-of-the-season artichokes, fried and pressed to look like sunflowers, in Rome. Bouillabaisse in Nice. If it’s fresh and what the locals eat, I want a taste.
My friends notice that before I take a bite, I breathe in the scent of whatever is on my plate. That’s how I make a permanent memory of taste.
I can still remember my first Tartufo Bianco – its heady scent musty like a mushroom. My first seared foie gras was like melting velvet. My first fresh oyster, a drop of the sea: briny, cool, and salty.
Memory, knowledge, taste, and supreme pleasure allow me to create a cuisine based on good ingredients, supported by a tender all-encompassing love for the wholesome products of the earth.
Share your love of food with me here…Chef Rick Halberg