Greetings fellow gourmands! My name is Allison Wright and I will be sharing the position of head chef, I mean editor, of On The Menu this year. I may have started out as the world’s pickiest eater, (I pretty much only ate SpaghettiOs, buttered noodles and chicken nuggets when I was a kid), but I’ve since developed a gargantuan appetite for all things edible. The weirder something sounds, the more inclined I am to try it!
When I’m not scoping out hole-in-the-wall noodle bars, craft beer havens or dreaming of six-course meals and sexy sommeliers, I lead the humble life of a “will-make-exceptions-for-bacon” pescetarian. Fear not, vegetarians, you shall not go unrepresented! My favorite kitchen tool would have to be a whisk followed closely by my French rolling pin, as I am a baker by trade.
I believe that food creates bonds between people. From passing the mashed potatoes at family dinner to licking whipped cream out of navels, food is at its best when shared with good company (or paired with a great beer). My mission is to share the good and the bad, the sweet and savory, the delightfully pungent and the regrettably acrid, and hopefully learn and teach a little on the way. Join me at my table. A chair is always open!
Now that you’ve taken a seat, let me tell you a little story. This is a story of adventure. It is also a story filled with tears and reiterations of “holy shit what the hell did I just eat?” The protagonist happens to be slightly masochistic when it comes to eating capsaicin. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the stuff that makes your ears ring. As the active compound in chili peppers, it can also bring tears to your eyes. Oddly enough, for me these tend to be tears of joy. Mild, medium, hot or APOCALYPSE, I opt for whatever packs the most heat. Though I revel in fiery foods, I simply cannot handle them. Even a weak chipotle will get the water works pumping. A bite too many and my nose begins to run. While snot seepage seems far from enjoyable, the red-faced and pant-inducing results of peppers is as exhilarating as cliff diving or skinny dipping.
One fateful afternoon, I combined the two and took the cliff plunge in the nude. While preparing a pot of sweet potato dahl, I found a bag of mysterious peppers deep within the depths of my communal refrigerator. As I would soon discover, the bird’s eye chili has been by far my most miserable, piquant bite. Ranging from mottled green and orange to fire-engine red, these tiny peppers are the size of a spindly pinky finger. Despite their size, they pack at least a couple punches. At upwards of 225,000 on the Scoville Scale, which happens to be about 10 times hotter than the common jalapeño, my oblivious mouthful of bird’s eye was like nuclear waste trickling down my esophagus. By the time it finally reached my empty stomach, the tiny morsel had already wrenched my gut to a level of unprecedented, sweating nausea. Despite the sheer pain of a firecracker residing in my innards, I began chopping another of these demons as tears dropped to the cutting board. Still sniffling, I dumped the desiccated chili into my pot of bubbling, future curry. Tempered by the mixture of cumin and turmeric, the bird’s eye added the perfect amount of heat. Still hot as hell, it became deliciously palatable. With a mixture of sadness and relief, I can say that I have yet to encounter the bird’s eye again, but should it once again grace my plate (or burn a hole straight through it), I will welcome my molten adversary.
Hello to all of my fellow gourmet Gauchos! My name is Kari Newman and I will be co-editor of On The Menu this school year. After growing up, watching my momma cook every night, obsessively watching the Food Network and having two grandparents in the restaurant business, I came to the realization that food is easily the most important thing in my life. Writing about food seemed like merely a dream. Fortunately for me, that dream has become reality. I cannot wait to share my knowledge, joy and passion for food with each and every one of you.
Let me start with a bit of joy. Los Agaves was introduced to me by a dear family friend of mine who lives in the Riviera of downtown Santa Barbara. The lively yet cozy setting of this family-style restaurant does not even hold a candle to the immaculate food. Every single thing I have eaten at Los Agaves has sent my taste buds on a wild adventure of savory, sweet and bursting flavors. In my opinion, the most unique and delectable dish from this restaurant is the Molcajete, or what I like to call, “Land and Sea.” Essentially, it is a massive bowl of spicy, decadent soup consisting of tender steak, juicy chicken and the freshest fish. Not to mention, its topping of bubbling cheese, avocado, onion and a pepper. In addition, it is accompanied by hand-made corn tortillas. Needless to say, this dish never disappoints. Should you make it to Los Agaves, I hope you share the same happiness that I did. Cheers!
This story appeared on page 7 of Thursday, September 25, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.