Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vietnamese Street Tacos - A Dedication To An Inspiration...

I, and many others, lost a dear friend and mentor yesterday. And though I paid homage elsewhere, I feel I should pay tribute to him here as well. Because were it not for his constant encouragement to return to my bliss, even during and all through the 9 years I worked with him in a mostly unrelated but somewhat tangentially related field, I might not be taking this road - one that has always fulfilled, engaged, excited and contented me more than any other career path - today.

Pork country style ribs, fish sauce,
brown sugar, soy sauce, onions, garlic,

and just a touch of vinegar to tenderize -
all braised until fork tender... YUMS.

All day yesterday I thought about what I would make for dinner to honor Roger's memory, and it really hit home as I was wracking my brain, wiping my eyes, and blowing my nose, that food was nowhere near as important to him as it was to me. I mean, he spoke of the occasional homecooked meal, but he talked about canned beans and Taco Bell and Cup Noodles just as much. (A throwback to less abundant times, it seemed.) 

That realization made his support over the years all the more poignant to me. It wasn't much to him, but he saw past his own interests, valued what food gave to me, and encouraged me to seek the fulfillment it offered, even at the indirect but obvious expense to his own profitability.

So I ended up making some caramelized and braised pork, Vietnamese style, to make tacos with, because that's what was in the freezer. Though it wasn't conscious at the time, it seems fitting in hindsight as we're getting ready to move at the end of the month, to make good use of what was left. 

Despite a position that allowed him much greater indulgence and extravagance, Roger always liked to keep it simple and humble. If a hotel was clean and comfortable, that was good enough for him, even when his East Coast peers often liked to insist on the *best* the company's dime could afford. Some days, if a bag of trail mix and a Diet Coke were all that were handy for lunch, then lunch they were.

A fusion between the Vietnamese food I love all the time
and the Taco Bell Roger used to eat from time to time...

And while I had lost my cooking palate to the sad news earlier in the day, it was as if Roger blessed last night's cooking session. Because those tacos, with the sticky sweetness of the brown sugar and umami from the fish sauce in the pork, the crunch and tang of the quick pickled onions and carrots, the heat from the habanero/cilantro/lime crema, and the freshness of the cilantro and crisp red cabbage were humbly, and simply, delicious.

I hadn't talked with Roger in several weeks when he passed, but I'd like to believe that, through a couple of bittersweet blessings yesterday, he was talking to me.