When I received my Australian passport in the mail in 2015, I clutched at it with both hands. We started planning our trip to the United States that night. A trip which, finally, I would be able to do without needing to interview for a travel visa, and without fear of not being able to get back into the country after.
On Christmas morning, Jacob surprised me with a phone call: he'd booked our flights for June. We were going PER - LAX.
And then we began discussions as to where we'd go once we landed. Knowing my fondness for the ever iconic New York City, he suggested we visit - a return trip for the two of us. Surprisingly, I was adamant that we avoid the Big Apple.
"I know me. I'll have a list of twenty restaurants and I would be dragging us around the city all day making sure we didn't miss eating anything. I wouldn't forgive myself for not eating at Le Bernardin or Daniel, and I wouldn't forgive myself afterwards for not giving us the room to explore the city without a list."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. We wouldn't have fun."
So we chose Portland instead. And thank God we did - I wouldn't have missed the planned Pok Pok and Kachka, or the impromptu Ava Genes for the world.
"Next time, maybe we'll do New York," I'd said. And how fortunate we were, of course, to know that there would be a next time. It was only a couple of months after we returned to Perth when we booked flights for a return to the U.S.
"So... New York now?"
And as our last (we thought) sojourn to our favourite country for a couple of years, I agreed, declaring that we would only do one proper 'restaurant meal' at a place that spoke to me the most. And everything else would be bistros and bites and morning oatmeal (I adore oatmeal). And burgers (for him, that is. I don't eat meat that's not ethically sourced, and this means I generally avoid meat in the U.S.).
Ruth Reichl once wrote that her job as a food critic was to make sure that people didn't waste their money on fine dining restaurants that weren't good. To ensure that diners who saved up their money for special occasions weren't let down by their experience. But somewhere down the line I started only wanting to dine at these places. Figured that Daniel was better than Le Bernardin. And perhaps let a list dictate my prepared excitement for a meal before anything else.
One of my favourite fine dining experiences was at Iggy's. I cannot remember how old I was, but at the time it was Singapore's highest ranked restaurant - as named by St Pellegrino's list, of course. I was too young to know or to care, but I did know that the food was very very good. My other favourite was Le Chateaubriand in Paris. A third being a restaurant again in Paris with silver doors, whose name I cannot recall. The fourth is Portland's Kachka. A fifth perhaps a little restaurant in Santa Monica which I chose due to the fact that they had zucchini flowers on the menu. The food was delicious.
I have eaten at some fine restaurants. I have eaten at some restaurants that have never made any list. In the end, I am realising, it is all just food. A friend said recently that she expected that chefs at restaurants would put up a better dish than she would. I don't believe in that. Most restaurants wouldn't. A cheese quesadilla is a cheese quesadilla both in my kitchen and at the average restaurant's. It is miraculous perhaps only one percent of the time. We have stopped ordering Mac and cheese at all restaurants except one: Rockpool's. Because it is miraculous to us. We make ours at home using the same recipe, and i can promise you it is not rocket science. It is garlic, speck and paprika and mustard that gives Rockpool's its depth of flavour. And it is the nostalgia that gives it our love. Food is memories. Food, not stars.
And so we went on a quest to discover our New York. Which started with falling in love with Brooklyn and its happy hours. Its open kitchens and its bars. Its most excellent pizza. It was walking along the streets and ducking into whichever restaurant looked amazing. Watching the people, not the critics. It was also Daniel Humm and Will Guidara's NoMad, because I couldn't not. It was Jacques Torres' phenomenal chocolate chip cookies and Momofuku Milk Bar (did you know that Will Guidara and Christina Tosi are married?!). And yoga classes, lots of walks and truly discovering what I liked, and not what I should like.
This is my New York:
Sky Ting Yoga. Oh Sky Ting. It was their podcast on Well Aware that first made me think about doing a 200-hour YTT, and practising in their studio just cemented it. I am manifesting a career in wellness every day, and throwing this out into the universe with all my might. My time in this studio was a dream, and I have the $50 sweatshirt to remember it by. It's paid for itself already - I wear it every day.
Jacques Torres. It was a miracle to be able to eat this chocolate chip cookie in person, after years of tasting it in the best friend's kitchen and in our own. We have experimented with flours, with chocolate, with cup versus scale measurements. It was Jacques Torres (and Dorie Greenspan) who first taught me the art of precision in baking, and it is still Jacques who bakes the King of All Cookies.
Colonie NYC. What a Brooklyn gem. Everything about the night was perfect. The open kitchen to watch the chefs at work, pre-dinner cocktails at Chez Moi, and finding ourselves smack bang in the middle of NYC life in the best way.
9/11 Museum. I am so glad we went. It was the one place I told myself I wouldn't leave without visiting.
Brooklyn. If I had to live in NYC, I'd choose the apartments of brick, the wooden floors and the tree-lined streets. I fell in love.