I was born in Fairfield Cty. Connecticut USA in '58 and Christmas food was my first memory. We spent summers on Martha's Vineyard and dug clams with our toes. We moved to Manhattan when I was 7yrs old and remember Benihana Japanese and a lot of TV dinners. On sundays, my mom made cube steak, spaghettios and beets in orange sauce that you boiled in a bag, a great meal for Disney movies. Then we moved to Brazil when I was 10yrs old.
I saw avocados and papaya the size of my head, huge spits of grilled meats and learned to eat black beans and rice with hot (hot!) sauce. When we drove to the coast on weekend mornings, kids would sell tiny green bananas in little bunches. By the time we drove home that night, they had ripened, a deep spotted yellow and sweet. Brazil is as equally tragic as it is beautiful.
Then we moved to Portugal when I was 14yrs old. We lived in rented houses in the Algarve until my Dad found the perfect spot of land on a cliff looking south over the Atlantic. He planted a vineyard with three kinds of grapes, grapefruit trees, and calamondin oranges. We already had almond trees and fig trees, one of which was huge enough to string a couple of hammocks under. I learned to love squid, especially in it's own ink; fresh sardines, grilled to perfection; whole fish baked w/lemon and how to best liberate an almond meat from it's husk. I developed an appreciation for good olive oil and vinegars.
While my parents slowly added to their "Quinta", I went to Switzerland for four years and got a proper british education. On weekends, they would let us loose with some camping gear and a map, and off we'd go into the alps. Typical fare was local bread, a bar of chocolate, a pound or two of local hard sausage and as much cheese as we could carry. With any luck, the oldest-looking would score a bottle of wine. Memories of Schnitzel, Rosti, Spaetzle, and Fondue endure.
I finally returned to the USA when I was 18 and fell into a state of culinary confusion. Everything was too sweet or too fried. While in Vermont, known for its fondness for natural foods, I was able to find seasonal produce and artisinal creations. After college, I got my ass kicked in an above average surf n' turf restaurant and learned a lot about time and temperature, and what it's like to be in combat. I think everybody who claims to be a "foodie" should work in a commercial kitchen.
Eventually I found myself in Maine as a diver for sea-urchins which were discovered in abundance in the late 80s. Once again I got my ass kicked but this time it was by natural causes. I would wriggle into a dry suit clad in wool sweaters and jump into choppy, 35-degree ocean water and scramble around rocky bottom in search of spiny creatures that are fed-exed to Japan that night. More on this in my forth-coming book.
While urchin diving, which is done only in winter, I bought a classic lobster boat and renovated it into a floating oyster bar. I plied the waters of Casco Bay in search of rich people on their yachts in need of a dozen cold ones. I announced on the VHF radio that I was in service and putted to and fro all afternoon until I had sold out of locally-farmed Damiriscottas, littleneck clams and my special chilled shrimp. It was a great gig.
After I had an accident while urchin diving, my fortunes changed and I have struggled to catch up ever since. Hey, that's the way it goes sometimes. But no matter how little food is available, I can put something on the table with a bit of flair and originality, a result of exposure to different cultures, four years in a busy kitchen and my parents eternal curiosity of all-things culinary.