A dish called three-storey building I was born in August 1952, in San Francisco. I grew up in Berkeley. My father was from Tahiti. He was Chinese and he came to the United States to go to the University of California, Berkeley. He came from a very large family, from around Guangdong. Like a lot of families, all the celebrations were food-centric, and in Tahiti a lot of it was about fishing. My mom grew up in California. Her parents were immigrants, German and Danish. So we’re quite a melting pot. My mom was the Western side of the kitchen and my father was the Chinese side. He cooked on weekends. One of his dishes was called Three-Storey Building – the lower floor was sautéed tomatoes and onions, then there was stir-fried beef with five-spice, then fried egg and green onions. I had a brother and a sister, five of us, and I swear those meals we ate very fast. Two recipes for mushroom lovers – so satisfying it’s magic Pastry skips a generation We loved going to Italian delis. They’d give me pieces of salami and say I was an honorary Italian. For many Chinese Americans, Chinatown is the heart of their experience, but not for me, being half-Chinese. But I love the food, and so shopping in Chinatown was exciting and interesting. My father would buy a whole fish – he’d pick it out of the tank – or chicken or duck with the head still on, and the feet. Those things all made an impression. My friends would come over and be not that receptive to the food, especially if he made this pork dish with shrimp paste and salt fish and fermented black beans – that was pretty intense. It was exciting and delicious to me and they were like, “What’s that smell?” The plant-based recipes of veggie visionary Alain Passard Neither my mother nor my father were into dessert, so I had to make it and I ended up being a pastry chef. My mother’s mother was a good baker and pie maker so I learned a lot from her. My mother always said that pastry skipped a generation. I did participate in quite a few civil-rights and anti-war demonstrations [...] Now I look back and I’m happy I participated, but I get a little depressed that we’re not further along Out on the streets There was a lot of action in Berkeley. We thought we were the centre of the world. I did participate in quite a few civil-rights and anti-war demonstrations. It was a good feeling, to work with other people towards a goal. I was scared at a few demonstrations. I was scared the day Martin Luther King Jnr was assassinated (April 4, 1968). It was almost rioting, with tear gas and all that. Now I look back and I’m happy I participated, but I get a little depressed that we’re not further along. Making more African-American friends really opened my eyes. Across from the high-school campus was a soul food restaurant that I went to a lot and the woman there was really friendly. She was southern. I learned a little bit about southern food traditions. I left high school early and went to the Sorbonne (in Paris, for a year) to study French. It was amazing to me – people shopped every day in these beautiful outdoor markets. The vegetables were amazing, the cheese was amazing. That was an awakening for me. I was 17. I had my 18th birthday there. Unusual pork neck recipes: grilled is not the only way Derailed for a while I went to Reed College, in Portland, in 1970. I studied biology and art. Between my junior year and senior year, my parents were killed. They were leaving Tahiti on a commercial airliner that crashed. So I got derailed for a while. That was 1973. They were pretty ill-equipped to deal with it at Reed – the counsellor was used to dealing with people who were procrastinating or had broken up with a boyfriend or something. So it was kind of an isolating experience. I did not write my senior thesis. I left and went to the Museum Art School; it’s now called Pacific Northwest College of Art. After that, I shared a printmaking studio with a friend, in the late 70s – we had a small printing press and did mostly etchings – and worked as an artist for a while. But I wanted to do something that was more involved with people. Food satisfies some of the creative aspects I need, and it’s a community. Wild at heart I knew I wanted a restaurant; I just didn’t have experience. In the mid-to-late 80s, I went to work at a catering company called Briggs and Crampton. It was owned by two women, Nancy Briggs and Juanita Crampton, and their one claim to fame was a lunch they called Table for Two (a lunch served from Tuesday to Friday, for a duo of diners). I managed the kitchen some days and on other days I cooked for Table for Two. In the 80s, Portland was a really traditional place, food-wise – steakhouses, pancake houses, fish houses. It made me sad that you would go somewhere for a meal and there would be canned green beans, because the thing that was exciting about Portland was it had great ingredients. You could go to the U-Pick farms that were really close to the city, and you could pick wild blackberries all over. Back then, the neighbours would fish and say, “Do you want a hunk of sturgeon?” There was a guy that lived behind us and he would hang fish in his backyard. What is real Thai food? Not just tom yum or pad thai, chef says Lars collecting mushrooms While I was at Briggs and Crampton I met two guys, Bruce Carey and Chris Israel, who had moved to Portland to start a restaurant. We got to know each other and decided to open Zefiro, in 1990. I was in my 30s. I had come to love Mediterranean food, Italian and Spanish. So we kind of jived on that. We came along with a menu that changed every two weeks, was seasonal and used local ingredients where possible. That – along with a fresh, modern aesthetic – resonated with Portlanders. When we opened Zefiro there was no farmers’ market in Portland. That, to me, shows the change more than anything else, because now there are lots of farmers’ markets and you can find anything – there’s such wonderful produce. But we were pretty limited. There was one guy, who is still around, Lars, collecting mushrooms. And Steve, who grew some greens. Then it just kept growing and growing. I was at Zefiro for a couple of years. Then, from 1994 to 1999, my mother’s mother needed care so I got a house in northeast Portland, took care of her for a while, and took a break from restaurants. I love food but, at the end of the day, what I do is 99 per cent people 99 per cent people I married chef Kevin Gibson in 1995 – I had hired him at Zefiro, in 1990. We’re still married but we’re separated. We opened Castagna in 1999. Back then it was the philosophy of good ingredients. Even though we’ve become much more modern, I love traditional food: for me that means making something that showcases an individual ingredient in the best possible way and presenting it beautifully. I love food but, at the end of the day, what I do is 99 per cent people: giving them the opportunity to blossom creatively. What I want to do is push people to be the best they can be, in terms of their skills, and be demanding. (Castagna’s chef) Justin Woodward uses modern techniques but it’s not about foams and all that, particularly: he’s much more natural than that. It’s the precision of cooking and enhancing individual flavours: for example, preparing a leek perfectly. In a way, I’m trying to force Portlanders to look at food differently and be open to it. ■ Monique Siu runs Castagna and neighbouring wine bar, OK Omens, in Portland, Oregon.