Food has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember. As immigrants without a high school education, my parents struggled to find a way to provide a bright future for their children. My dad knew that food would always be in demand, so he sought to open a restaurant. After saving some money, my parents opened Sammy’s BBQ, a small, teriyaki-style restaurant in West Hollywood.
Most of my toddler years were spent at that restaurant. I built Legos with my mom at unoccupied tables and finished customers’ crossword puzzles by writing in the letters. If it was a late night, my mom would arrange a cozy sleeping quarter for me on a shelf underneath the register counter. The restaurant was my second home.
After a few years, my parents wanted to find a location with better parking, so they sold the business** and opened a Thai restaurant in Hollywood. They opened Siam Sunset Restaurant in 1991 and have been serving authentic and traditional Thai dishes for over 20 years.
The role that food has had in my life is not the typical one of cooking side-by-side with my mother or grandmother. Rather, food was how my parents supported our family, how they created opportunities for their children, and how they turned their vision of the American dream into reality.
Despite my exposure to food at such a young age, I did not develop an interest in the kitchen until I was nine years old at a school bake sale where I spotted beautifully decorated cookies. Being an inquisitive child, I asked the mother who brought them how they were made. She used ready-to-bake dough and canned frosting. Easy enough, I thought. In subsequent days, I wondered if cakes were as simple to make as cookies were, which led me to ask my teacher. She instructed me to follow the directions on a box of cake mix. I concluded that all baked goods stemmed from mixes. That Christmas I received an Easy Bake Oven that came with a variety of mixes. I baked with mixes for years until finally, when I was twelve, I learned to bake cookies from scratch from an afterschool cooking class.
My mind was blown! The class was my first exposure to recipes and cookbooks. There was an entire world of baking beyond mixes. With recipes, I was not limited to the flavor combinations of doughs/mixes. In the following days I begged my mom to take me to the bookstore. She bought me my first cookbook and I’ve been baking and cooking from scratch ever since.
**Fun Fact: The buyers of Sammy’s BBQ changed the style of the restaurant from teriyaki to Thai and opted to only slightly alter the name from Sammy’s BBQ to Sammy’s Thai BBQ. If you’re ever driving on Santa Monica Blvd. between Fairfax and La Cienega, try to spot the green awning with my dad’s name in large font – Sammy!