Moments make the memories.

There was really no choice. No options, no “How would you like yours?”

Except for the occasional addition of a meat option, it was always the same: rice & bean burrito with a fair amount of melted cheese. My father would double park the Oldsmobile Cutlass in the red zone on our way from my Nana’s house in the Mission District in San Francisco. My mom waited patiently in the front seat, ready to move the car if asked. He would return armed with a plastic bag full of foil wrapped Mexican sleeping pills, as they have been dubbed by a close friend. Monstrosities dwarfing any frozen burrito I had ever had, these things were not to be taken lightly. Although they were something to be appreciated, and that, I did. I mean, it was no surprise to me that I was being raised by a Mexican man proud of his ethnicity. A constant pot of refried beans with a stack of tortillas within arms reach was the a given. It would seemed strange if it wasn’t there. Shopping lists started with salsas, then the other condiments. He also had his little quirks, his comforts. “Why the hell does he keep a ziplock bag of my mother’s fresh baked cookies in his car?”


All of the things that may not make sense, nor ever noticed to a certain level, become the moments that shape our upbringing. Food & music are very similar in this capacity. After working years in the music industry, I can now hear a song by Sia, and be transported back to a city in which we toured. A meal I ate in that town, amongst a crowd not even knowing she was there, or who our group was. Tupac comes on, and I’m taken back to the 90’s, vividly remembering things I haven’t thought of in years. Ok, fine, maybe there were a few other reasons for a memory lapse or two, but I’m finally starting to grow up, maybe. November Rain begins to play, and at first, I sometimes tear up with it’s attachment to personal loss I’ve experienced. By the end of the song, I’m lifted with memories of seeing them live at AT&T Park, before heading to San Diego, CA, to cook for Guns & Roses at their show two weeks later.

So, to me it’s simple to relate these two wondrous aspects of life. What else transports you? For me, I know when I hear someone speak of clam chowder, my Godfather, Fred, may he rest in peace, is right next to me at Fishermans Wharf. I’m realizing my disgust for clams is totally made up & fabricated in my head. This shit is delicious.. And, although I may or may not have had better chowder since, is not the point. That’s where it was lodged into my psyche. Like the first time crab became Dungeness crab. Then became fresh, cracked, & picked Dungeness crab. Who knows? Maybe I’m just weird. Maybe, I’m just a wildly obsessed food lover who found his calling in the world of all things to be eaten, and that’s just who I am. Or, maybe there’s something to be said about the balanced smells of vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and pork running through my mom’s kitchen that led me decades later to follow that nostalgia all the way around the world, to the Motherland of the Philippines. There, I would enjoy adobo with my Lola, in her home in the village of Tolosa, on the island of Leyte, shortly before she’d pass. Close your eyes and think. What is the dish that brings you back? And where are you now, even if for a moment?

Alright, enough with the sidestepping. Today started a bit heavy for me. But, once a day like this becomes recognized, that weight can become emphasis. The energy can be transformed as you see fit. Two years ago, today, my father passed. Not getting into the details, and although it wasn’t sudden, it still remains an experience in which my grief has morphed into a complex set of stages. A relationship of two hard headed stubborn individuals, who rode roller coasters of ups and downs, almost as literally as the coasters he made me join him on at Great America as a kid. This, years before my balls were ready for that fear, regardless of my size meeting the minimum height requirement for the amusement park. We were the closest, then we weren’t, before we were again. Alzheimers took him years ago, then eventually his body left us, too. Through growth and experience, though, I get to be with him. And honestly, we are closer than ever.

Yesterday, I sat with my brother & his family. We ate burritos from a local taqueria. Our Papa was there.. The tales of the SF burritos came alive as we devoured these tortilla wrapped piles of deliciousness. After I left, on my drive home, I reached over and grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from a bag my mom had packed for me on an earlier visit. Not even the question of ‘why a bag of cookies in the car seemed so normal’ crossed my mind. I can’t be the only one who tries to not be like their parents, to inevitably find out that, yes. You see where I’m going with this.

We’ve all grown up eating whatever it was that our families saw fit. At home, out on adventures, simple, traditional, whatever. Some more common than others, but that’s beside the point. The idea, though, is basic. It’s a given opportunity to remain close to the times of your life that you enjoy looking back on. A bond with the memories of loved ones that may or may not still be present.

Going forward, its an awareness that I can now have as to what opportunities I can provide to those in my life, professionally or personally, that may stick with them, decades later, thinking to themselves, “I remember the 1st time I had seafood fideua..” (Go ahead, Google it, I’ll wait).

Cheers, to wherever your palate & memories take you. 

Thanks Papa,

Your son,


The Re-Fire.

Over a decade ago, I found myself working in some pretty decent fields for a number of reputable employers. And although I seemed to thrive in whatever environment I was in, I knew the sole purpose of showing up every day was to earn that check. Now, to almost all of us at some point, this is a no brainer. I mean, who doesn’t need to make a living?

It wasn’t until I had to genuinely ask myself what I believed it was that I wanted to do with my life. I had gone to a JC when I was younger, with no aspiration. I had worked jobs that had paid bills, but slowly nipped at my soul. So what was it? What was out there that could reward me, both financially and mentally? My previous jobs had consisted of sales, which was fine considering I deal with people relatively well. And I had worked years in accounting since numbers always came easy to me. But, neither field sat right down deep.

As I became more independent from family, self-sufficiency led me to have to fend for myself. This obviously included cooking. I knew nothing. Re-heating? Yes. Simple recipes? I could manage. Beyond that? You may as well ask me to speak a foreign language. Strangely enough, there was still some curiosity I had; some desire to learn. I knew I had a chef in the family, but what did it take for him to start in that direction? I had called my uncle, a well-known chef in Maui, HI, to find out what led him to develop a career out of what many people do to merely survive. I explained to him that my trips to the store for pantry staples were becoming mystery baskets of who knows what, and it somehow intrigued me. After some further research, consideration, and effort, I looked into culinary school and went to visit. There, they informed me of the toll this career takes, and that it’s recommended that we discuss with our family and friends their feelings on this, as this life can take away nights, weekends, and holidays as we know them. Willing to make this sacrifice, I moved forward, enrolled, attended (with perfect attendance, I might add..), and graduated with an Associates Degree of Occupational Studies of Le Cordon Bleu. This was a larger task than you may think, as I had never possessed very good study habits prior to.

Upon exiting the educational portion of my new career path, student or not, it was time to pay dues, start at the bottom. Again, all sacrifices I was willing to make. I proceeded to spend a number of years in both restaurants and catering, eventually cooking for tens of thousands of guests, clients, and customers. Being able to take part in restaurant openings, cater events in amazing places, these were all experiences affirming I was on the right path. Eventually, I had gained access to the world of tour catering. Here I would be able to put all skills to the test. This was big time. I began cooking for musicians and artists, traveling the country, riding tour busses, and catering to their needs on the road. All these different opportunities were astonishing. The experiences I was having, the recognition I was receiving, it was all a surreal experience.

Eventually, life was life, and plans changed as they always did. My short attention span, my uncertainty of direction, and constant questioning of the next step came into play. I would soon find myself switching gears to re-enter the world of restaurants. It was time to become a bit more grounded. Get back to living a somewhat “normal” existence, as if I ever knew what that meant. After a gig as Sous Chef of a successful restaurant in Marin County, again success called, and it was time… A chef’s dream. It was time to open my 1st restaurant.

I had been through this process before. From the ground up. But not “mine”, as a partner, financially obligated and soon to be, hopefully, rewarded as well. Latching onto this opportunity, my direction was again set, and the process began. This time around I was going to see what it took behind the scenes to get this thing going. We had decided on a name, had the location, and the dynamics & demographic were calculated. Over the course of the next five months, I sat with my partners through licensing, meetings, contractors, designers, and all of the other aspects of opening a restaurant.

In March of 2013, the time had come. We were successful in our task. The doors to our new lives had opened.

Greeted with open arms from the city of Santa Rosa, CA, everything was right where it needed to be. Or so I thought..

You see, there were underlying personal circumstances that were hindering me throughout. Going back way earlier than I was willing to admit. Normalcy of my behavior, the way I handled life had never been too much a nuisance, at least not to me. For a kid that grew up, blaming a great amount of self-destructive behaviors on “just being young”, similar traits in my later years were not so easy to dismiss.

To this point, I had lived my life with certain theories. Some of these involved the perception I shot for. Convincing the world I was ok, and as long as it looked that way, all was good. I was successful! I mean, who does what I did if they have a problem?

It wasn’t but 2 weeks after the opening that I had broken yet another promise to myself. Another word that I would change for the better, health wise, once things calmed down. What had happened along the way was a change in my motives. The inspired chef who had dedicated his life to mystery baskets, menu writing, pleasing people’s palates, had altered his priorities. I was now surrounding myself in a career that embraced the way I liked to live. I could eat, drink, drink (not a typo), and be merry. Although it was a different story in the morning. It had become more about me. What I was getting out of it. Going from working a dead-end job just to pay bills, to finding a love for a career, had circled right back to doing it for the money and the lifestyle. Being a creative culinary mind ran a distant 2nd. I had deteriorated mentally & physically. It wasn’t until the man in the lab coat spoke to me as I lie in bed that my body was not well. I wasn’t yet to the point of being unable to heal, but that’s where I was headed. It brought all of the initial exterior problems into perspective.

Luckily for me, this last broken promise would be the game changer. There would be no more living life in a way that would cost me what I had worked so hard for. I was going to get back on track, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

After some discussion with my partners, it was clear that certain things needed to happen for me to focus on these changes. Although I loved what we had built so much, it was best I stepped away. The restaurant was going to be a success, and I wanted to in no way jeopardize that. I separated from the restaurant, and put all of my energy & focus into getting me back, mind & body.

Throughout this process, it became clear that the field I was in is very enabling for someone of my personality. So, I had two options as I saw it:  change my career, or do what I need to do to get my priorities back. And thank God I was able to do just that. By following a few simple suggestions.

I found my legs again. I found my drive, my desire, my passion for my culinary life. I have remembered what it was that led me to the kitchen in the 1st place. I have adjusted and my motives are now realigned. I deal & react to life differently, and have a purpose.

To this day, I hold my chef’s knife again, embrace my creative side, and try my best on a daily basis to stay out of my own way.

Recalling working on the hot line in the restaurant world, the last thing you want is a returned dish. Hearing the chef or expeditor call for a “re-fire!” at first sound is a frustration; a feeling of failure. When, if you can put that aside, redo it with an even brighter outlook, it can be even more amazing than the first attempt. Sometimes, the experience of not doing it right is transformed into doing it better than you ever thought you could.

I see where I am in my journey today, and realize everything happens the way it’s supposed to. That said, I’d be naive to not realize what I am experiencing. It’s simply a re-fire of my career, and my life.