Full Circle

My series of one-way flights has ended. After a year-round summer, I am back to winter on the East Coast of the United States.

Seven countries, eight kitchens, one year. I conjured up this adventure in my subconscious and now it lives in reality on the pages of my passport.

How could I possibly summarize the breadth of my experience with words? Most of what resulted lives within me, having strengthened my grit, stimulated my brain and widened my perceptive, in both a culinary and worldly sense. Perhaps the only way to truly explain the effect of the past year is to invite you to taste what I create from my own menu one day. Then I don’t have to use words.

Throughout my trip and especially now that I’m back, people have been asking me superlative questions: “What was the best country, where did you learn the most, which chef did you like the best?,” but I abhor superlatives. Each country, each kitchen, every person I met rolled itself into an intricate, cumulative experience that would lose its impact on me if I had to force comparisons. A better question to ask is, “What have you learned from your travels?”

I had many goals when I embarked—to discover new foods, taste new cuisines, meet new people and learn cultural traditions—all of which were accomplished. But my underlying goal was to uncover what direction I wanted to take my career, and as I expected, I gradually developed a much clearer vision of what my philosophy for food and dining is. It is with this vision that I pursue my next job.

Because of this year, my circle of friends and connections has grown wonderfully larger, including, but not limited to:

Bali, Indonesia – Will, Maria, Loulou, Grace, Gretel, Ermi, Kelly, Komang, Nyoman and all my favorite front-of-house ladies.

Hong Kong – Jessica, Lo Min, and the Aberdeen Street Social Nepali community for giving me the most to smile about.

Singapore – The Sweets Factory family (Moon, Weichan, Guiyi, YY and Jas) who have all moved on to do bigger and better things. The Tippling Club family (Paul, Ginge, Onion, Jo, Jun, Dik, Cheri, Pris, Robo, Yugnes, Russell, CJ, Raniel, Francita, Will) where I found a “normal” kitchen again.

Tokyo – The Chocolate Academy team with Abe-san, Ogata-san, Andres (with Marie and Mochi) and Ramon. The culture clash between all of us was one of the highlights of my year. The Narisawa pastry team with Kanako-san, Yumi, Mai and Meguro. And my own band of brothers with fellow stagaires Irvin, Gabe and Max.

Taichung, Taiwan – Makito, the ladies at Choux Choux and staff at Le Mout. Happy to see that the future of Taiwanese fine-dining is a strong, inquisitive bunch.

Birregurra, Australia – Dan, Damien, Simon, Trisha, Tash, Vince, Noodle, Trent, Pete, Joe and Meg. I would willingly go through thick and thin with any of you again.

I would be remiss if I did not give special thanks to people who helped my journey stretch as long as it did—Chantal in Hong Kong, Afiza in Singapore, Dylan in Singapore and Thailand, my family in Taiwan and Damien in Birregurra. Housing was my most costly expense and these generous folks opened their doors to me. I am forever grateful.

What seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure is actually not so. For the time-being, I will find a new kitchen to grow and establish myself in, and then it will be time to reinvigorate my senses with the world’s foods, cuisines and lessons again. It is what makes this industry distinctive—innovation is how we stay relevant, and there is no end to where we can go in search of it.

Until then, thanks for reading and sharing this experience with me!

– C

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