Thursday, April 20, 2017

One thing I learned after one year of doing nothing + a recap on my SF trip

After much reflection lastsummer, I decided to take a year off from school to reflect, grow and basically do all the crap I have always wanted to do, but too afraid or occupied to do them. I want to be a Mr. Clean sponge and drink up all new experiences, both good and bad ones. The thing about experiences is that once gathered enough, they can challenge your perspective on life – just like, a scientific theory is forced to change when real world data repeatedly challenge its validity.

Tablescape of our first pop-up

Ok I admit I have always been drawn to make friends with people who are similar to my ethnicity, personality socioeconomic status, education and so forth. I am that Asian kid who sits with other Asian kids. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with it. I also don’t think my decision to do so was purely deliberate, but then again, I did feel certain kind of easiness and comfort among people who share my values. It felt ego-boosting when what everyone around me reinforced what I believed. I felt safe, and more importantly, a sense of belonging – that’s a powerful force. Another reason for my affinity towards sameness is probably from my naïve view that two people must share same values to love (in both platonic and romantic sense) each other.

Burmese tomato salad

However, recently I couldn’t help but to feel that all the novel and significant experiences during my one-year-off from school were accompanied by people who are drastically different from me. I guess, in retrospect, it is not surprising – I cannot make a new dish by keeping on using the same ingredients and methods. More importantly, I learned that it is possible to still love the person, work with the person, laugh with person, even though I don’t share any of the ideals with the person. Of course, it requires much respect for the person, and internalization that a glass half-full can be seen as a glass half-empty. One important thing a gap-year has taught me is that there are no bad or good perspectives, but different ones. And, I need, no..scratch that…WE need, people with different talents, and perspectives to create new things..beautiful things…things that have never existed before.

Pandan Mochi ball about to be stuffed with smoked ice-cream

Chef’s table seating at the pop-up dinner

My recent trip to SF to host pop-up dinners with Ingrid from Piquecooking certainly qualifies as a momentous bookmark. The trip was personally inspiring not just because it was my very first time cooking for a group larger than 10, but mostly because the people I have met. As I get older, I don’t usually get wowed by what people do or achieve, but rather by who they are, their generosity and unapologetic dedication to their goals.

Grilled sticky rice packets in banana leaves


First Ingird – it is hard to write a description for Ingrid. Before this trip, our interaction was solely through some phone calls and IG direct messages. One day, I woke up and suddenly felt this powerful force to ask Ingrid to co-host pop-up dinners with me. Part of me was hoping that she would say a big fat “No”, so I would have an excuse for myself if I decided to not follow through with the promise I made to myself, half-drunk on NYE. But, Ingrid not only said yes, she decided to be an organized powerhouse in planning for our pop-up dinners – she took care of everything from making to-do spreadsheets to paying deposits to secure our venues. And, I repeat at that point, I was a complete stranger to her. I could have changed my mind, and she would easily be fucked. Right now, I sometimes imagine myself doing the same as Ingrid did for me one day for someone. I would be lying to say I have absolutely no mental block in trusting complete strangers, but Ingrid inspired me to at least play with the possibility, even if I may not be able to do it at the moment.

Burmese Tofu at a Burmese New Year Festival at the Half-Moon-Bay

Shaved Ice

When I get to SF, she arranged for me to stay with her friends, Tony and Gina. I felt a great sense of honor getting to know them. Tony is a big hunky guy with generosity to match his beaming smile. Gina is a shrewd tinier one of the two, but with heart just as big as Tony's. One night I sat down next to Tony and we talked for hours about our interests, life and aspirations. I learned Tony once hiked in amazon forests for weeks when he was my age. I think that was crazy. He likes beer, music, singing and life. His laugh is contagious. One thing he said that really resonated me was that “When good people asks you for help, you feel honored to help them”. In my head, I had a brief thought of “fuck, this is so cheesy, but I don’t think I am going to see my upcoming charity event for Doctors Without Borders the same way anymore (Btw, we raised $1300 for the event)”. On the day I left SF, Tony thanked Ingrid for bringing me to stay with him. I mean, I can be fun and all, but seriously, who the actual hell thanks the guests for staying at their place?

Kyar Zan Hin Gar - peppery glass noodle soup

A sone thote - mixed salad

Lastly, I got a chance to hang out with my former co-worker, now a Stanford student Austin. Austin is young, but what he lacks in age is compensated by his rich experience. I actually don’t know much about Austin until I hanged out with him this time. This kid is wildly creative, and has a palate of a 1980 Mafia gang leader, as evidenced by a vast collection of good whiskey, affinity for Cuban cigars and records lying about in his apartment. But, what really moved me was his contagious spontaneity and passion for life and arts. I can see myself becoming a good friend with Austin. Even though we don’t necessarily share same interests (no seriously, I don’t voluntarily drink whiskey, listen to records and I will cough when I smoke), I have much respect for his passion for things he loves.

Burmese Garlic Noodle


There is something beautiful about the energy when someone pursues hungrily towards a goal. Ingrid is working on her new start-up company called Mavencooks – she promised when she becomes an official CEO, she will let me pick out her office chair. I am currently thinking lots of faux fur. Tony and Gina are thinking about starting a woodwork project for food photography backdrops – they are thinking about naming the business “all things beautiful”. Austin is graduating next month from Stanford with masters in electrical engineering and design. I see great things in Austin. He also promised he will come with me to Morocco next year.

Artwork near Valencia

Mission Chinese SF with Anand and Ingrid - a restaurant famous for its Chinese fusion

Squid Ink Garlic Noodle

On route to Lands End SF

Amazing View from Lands End SF

To Hogs Island Oyster Farm in Point Reyes

Thet, Austin and Ingrid worked while I chilled

Austin and his oyster

Ingrid and her oyster

Leftover grilled pork and its friends

Grilled Oysters

My favorite corner of Tony’s house

Last Breakfast in SF


I personally like to give a huge thank to Tasty Duck and Melissa’s Produce for sponsoring our pop-up dinners. Their produce are always exceptional, and the customer service is second to none. Again, thank you guys.

I also would like to show my gratitude for Facturegoods and Bostonpotter for helping out with beautiful ceramics for souvenirs for people who came to your charity dinner. 


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Cathy. Your Morocco photos are stunning as well. I want to visit there one day.

  2. I seriously don't have anything "smart" to say this time! Love what you have to share about your SF adventure, the capture, and the rawness in each photo! I want ALL the food you are showing in this post!! Job well done to all of you for the pop-up and charity event! I envy you that you get to meet all these inspiring cool folks!

    1. Marv...thank you so much. I really want to meet with you one day as well.

  3. It was so great meeting you at your pop up for Doctors Without Borders. Like I said before, I love your food and your photography. Please keep posting and writing. :) And good luck in your next year of med school!

    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks for coming to the charity event. It was great to see you and ryan

  4. Everything about this post is beyond inspiring. I think it's amazing that you are having these priceless experiences with like minded people, and I love that you reached out to Ingrid 'half drunk'. Some of those moments with a little liquid courage lead to the most incredible things. Cheers :-)

    1. Thank you so much Lindsay. haha, yes indeed liquid courage is a thing.

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