Its always been hard for me to talk about myself. Often my husband will be the one telling stories about the people that I’ve cooked for or bragging about the meals I’ve made. There’s something about it that makes me uncomfortable. It’s been very difficult in a place like Napa, where that’s all people do. Talk about who they know, who they’ve helped, the amazing meal that they’ve had. Since I want for this site to be about my life here in Wine Country, I guess its something I’ll have to get over so here goes….
Honestly, I fell into cooking. It’s not something I saw myself doing. As a child I had many aspirations (which is often the case for Aquarians). I dreamed of being an ice skater, ballerina, an actress. As I got older those dreams became a Marine Biologist. That was until I started college and realized the math and science part of that dream. I studied journalism, specifically broadcasting with hopes to be an anchor. An internship with a local news station in Sacramento quickly changed that. I didn’t like the way people judged them, how they always had to look and dress a certain way. I didn’t like how regimented it all was and how fake it felt.
At the time, I was working in restaurants. Primarily to pay for my college education. I fell in love with the ambience, the chaos, the team mentality and learned tremendously about all things beverage specifically wine. Working in restaurants gave me this passion I had never felt before, opened my eyes to great food and the relationship people have with food. It taught me about different cuisines from all over the world and encouraged me to explore my palate.
Most of my life before working in restaurants, I was a vegetarian. My poor mother worked a lot. Sometimes two jobs to take care of me and my three siblings on her own. She always had food in the house for us and often times made dinner. She tried her best to put together nutritious meals with what she had. As a chef who is always trying to create menus and as a busy wife who likes to have dinner with her husband at home, I can appreciate how hard this was for her. You see, my mom wasn’t the most adventurous eater. She cooked her meats to the point of burnt and we never had any sort of fish/seafood growing up even though we lived in San Diego. I thought, “If this is what meat taste like, I want no part of it”. It wasn’t until I began working for a steakhouse that I learned what meat was supposed to taste like.
Living and working here in Napa, I feel the need to prove myself. There are so many amazing chefs here and one of the best culinary schools in the country. I never went to culinary school. I had dreams to attend Le Cordon Blu in Paris but life got in the way. To this day, it’s one of my regrets in life. However I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far. To think a random request from a friend while living in Chicago changed my whole life.
I decided to move to Chicago after my best friend at the time asked me to help her relocate for school. I fell in love with the city, its people and food. Growing up in San Diego, I never truly experienced comfort food. The weather is usually so nice so most people eat lighter and being so close to the ocean, there’s an abundance of fresh seafood. The winters are brutal in Chicago. It not only helped thicken this skin of mine, it introduced me to really hearty cuisine. Stick to your ribs type of food. Food that creates a warmth from within because you can’t feel your face. It was here where I truly developed a passion for not only food but cooking.
I started cooking for friends and playing around with recipes for fun. I especially love baking so I would make treats for gifts all the time. Through work, I met a lot of great people who then introduced me to others. Pretty soon I had a nice group of really supportive friends. I was introduced to a stockbroker who was really busy and asked me if I would be interested in helping him “eat better”? Could I prepare breakfast/lunches and bring them to his office in the West Loop? Easy enough I thought. He wasn’t picky and the money was easy. I had started to think that maybe I could do this as a career. I really loved cooking and everyone I cooked for seemed to really love my food. That being said I had no idea what actually went into being a personal chef; preparing menu, staying within budget, shopping for the food, prepping the food, packaging the food and delivering it! It was overwhelming no less but I got such a high after making that first delivery and receiving my first check. While I loved my time in Chicago, I quickly began to feel homesick and after 3 years, I was ready to come home. I decided I would move back to San Diego, bartend and save enough money to start my own meal delivery business.
In 2011 Cedes Gourmet was born. I felt like I was on cloud nine. I never thought I would own my own business and be paid to do something I love. It was two years of extreme highs and lows. One minute I was cooking for high profile celebrities and the next I went weeks without any business. My friends and family were so supportive during that time. From coming out to the farmers markets where I sold meals to go, to referring me business and opportunities to cater. But I was clueless. I had no idea how to run a business and also no professional culinary experience to teach me how to keep my food cost down. I was working alone. Sometimes 16 hours a day, having no time for my loved ones or myself. I went into a pretty downward spiral. I had worked so hard but I was failing. I had such great ideas, hopes and dreams, but no real way to put them into fruition.
In 2013, I decided to let go of my business. I sold off a bunch of my equipment and referred contacts to other chefs. My now husband decided he wanted to move back up to Northern California to be with his parents and start a new life. We’d be close to Napa, a place I had always dreamed of going to. Quickly after we moved, I got an opportunity to cook for a prominent family. I never imagined this would happen. Especially since we were moving to a smaller town initially. It really helped restore my confidence and make me feel whole again. I don’t know what I would have done without that opportunity. To this day I try to say “Yes” to things that come my way. That mantra has really given me experiences and a life I could never have imagined I would have.
In 2015, we officially moved to Napa. We found a great place mere blocks from the downtown restaurants and shops. My husband is close to work and I’m living in the mecca of food and wine in California if not the country. I still have those business highs and lows as well as trying to balance out the personal and professional. I’m getting more confident in myself and my cooking everyday. Chefs are like artist, extremely emotional, critical of their food or “creations” and always thinking of the next big thing. I’m no different, but I try to stay true to what I enjoy eating and serving those I love. I’m not sure whats next, but I know it will be exciting. Especially now that we are into Spring, one of my favorite culinary seasons.
Oh and Lady and the Vine. I’m sure you know how I came up with that moniker. Its quite literal in a sense. But funny enough it actually came to me from my mother. One of her favorite movies is Lady and the Tramp. I wanted to pay homage to the woman who raised me, inspired me to do whatever I wanted to in this life, not to let anyone tell me I couldn’t and how to make something out of nothing. My mother always told us not to eat in front of others without offering them to join you. “You never know when their last meal was”, she’d say. Maybe that’s why I’ve created a life built upon feeding others.
David’s Tres Leches
This dessert is an old favorite of my former roommate in Chicago and good friend David Valdez. I made these for his 22nd bday party and it was a huge hit! Using boxed cake mix makes this a lot easier than regular sponge recipe. Making mini cupcakes is great for a party and guest are more likely to enjoy (less guilt I guess).
Leftovers “fried” rice
My mother used to take whatever she had leftover in the fridge and turn it into an amazing rice dish using boxed Rice a Roni. My siblings and I loved it! Even though it was all from leftover ingredients, it felt special. My take is a little different than mom’s, using mainly Asian flavor profile, but still reminiscent of hers no less. The “fried” texture comes from placing under the broiler for few minutes. Take some inspiration but make it your own!
Makes 4 servings
2 cups brown long grain rice, cooked
1 cup rotisserie chicken shredded
1 cup vegetable medley (I used shredded carrots, grilled asparagus, yellow bell pepper & red onion)
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
4 large cage-free eggs
Sriracha, cilantro & toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoon liquid aminos (Sub low sodium soy sauce is fine)
1 teaspoon Mirin
Salt & pepper to taste
Sauté garlic in coconut oil on medium heat until fragrant making sure not to burn. Add vegetable mix and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Mix in rice and chicken. Toast for 3 minutes.
Assemble dressing by adding all ingredients to a mason jar and screw on lid. Cover loosely with kitchen towel while you shake vigorously. Stir into mixture until evenly coated. Turn broiler on medium heat and place sauté pan underneath for 3-5 minutes.
In a medium nonstick skillet add grape seed oil and heat on medium low heat. Crack eggs into skillet and gently fry until egg white is set and yolk is warmed through.
Remove pan from oven. Rice should look a little crispy and slightly browned. Scoop out mixture onto plates and top each with an egg. Drizzle Sriracha and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro.
Eggs can be tricky! If you crack a yolk, no worries. It will still be delicious. Spooning some of the warmed oil over the eggs will help set that white easier while warming the yolk. You could also cover the pan with a lid for a few minutes. Serve in pan for that wow factor.