Global Food|Local Perspectives Symposium (Follow up)

This afternoon we were treated to an insightful conversation (and delicious tastes), thanks to Kera Lovell, Dr. Simone Cinotto, and the panelists. It was a perfect example of a global community of considerate hungry philosophers coalescing around a table of diverse international, transnational, post colonial, immigrant and local tastes.

Dr. Simone Cinotto opened the symposium with a multidimensional talk addressing the unique immigrant conditions that included class, race, policy and lead to chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs on the The Italian American Table.

The first panelist, Kirsten, shared sausage pasta (sausage sourced from Sheep Dog Farms) and the challenges of developing the menu around local produce and concerns of food sensitivities, of the dominance of standardized processed foods, of her own evolution as an eater, a farmer and as a restaurateur of La Scala and Restauration.

Next, Minal talked about the difficulty of procuring spices and Indian ingredients, about moving to West Lafayette, about the diversity of her menu and the value of authenticity, about her joy in serving the student community through fun snack foods, like the samosas she offered from Shaukin.

Finally, with two beautiful Thai desserts Chef Ake spoke of constant learning, of food waste, of social media and reviews, of Thai culinary history and of running Thai Essence.

It was certainly one of the most interesting (as it was supported and/or attracted multiple different disciplines that included Hospitality and Tourism Management, Linguistics, Italian Studies, American Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies and more) and definitely the tastiest symposium I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

The Thai desserts were very new to me. Loved them. One was a cross between a cake and a custard, while the other sweet egg flower dessert was very delicate. Both beautiful. I’ll have to learn more about those. I’d also like to learn more about the farms that Kirsten sources her produce and meats from. I’d like to conduct a “tour of India” through Minal’s regional snack foods and discover the seemingly familiar anew. I’m ready to learn more. And eat. More.

Excellent organizing and curating, Kera!

For those of you unable to attend, please support these local establishments, stretch your mind and your stomachs. For those of you far away, please support your local restaurants that work hard to create fresh delicious experiences. Try something different. Give a new taste a mouth hug. Spread the curiosity and joy.

May we all together cultivate a community of considerate consumers (sorry, couldn’t help that easy alliteration).

Wishing you a flavorful weekend ahead,



Invitation to West Lafayette Hungry Philosophers

Dear Hungry Philosophers,

Please join us for what promises to be a wonderful discussion about GLOBAL FOOD from our local perspective: October 22nd, 3:30-5:30 pm. Nelson Hall 1215, Purdue University.

Global Food Studies_10.22.15

I would like to thank our panelists for their willingness to share their time and experience with us. Below is a brief introduction to each restaurant and associated panelist. They have much to teach us about making ourselves at home by serving, learning and eating together. For more, please join us in our efforts to extend local goodwill through global food.

La Scala and Restauration



Crafted, complex and whole are the words Kristen Serrano uses to describe La Scala, a Lafayette Indiana Italian restaurant that she co-owns with her chef-owner husband, Francisco Serrano. Every dish is freshly crafted to order and aims for complex layered tastes. The board at the entrance shows that every effort is made to source from local farms. Extending and centering on this principle of celebrating local produce and products, the couple, also opened Restauration.

Growing up in an Ohio home with an one-acre yard, Kirsten learned to appreciate home grown, cooked and baked foods early. The connection to soil, ground, earth, land (she repeats these words through out our conversation) is important enough for her to live and work on a 5-acre farm now. This nature focused gastronomic DNA serves both La Scala and Restauration well.

It was, however, family food allergies and dietary limitations that pushed Kirsten to learn more about healthy foods and implement her knowledge of holistic nutrition at the restaurants. Restauration, dedicated to their daughter, champions the cause of allergen free, simple, creative and grounded eating.

Due to a nightshade allergy Kirsten can no longer enjoy her favorite eggplant parmesan. However, now she does enjoy the pork steak at Restauration sourced from Sheepdog Farms, brined in apple cider and served with a cider reduction. The dish represents the principles of a simple entree, locally grounded ingredients and creative technique (she credits chef Alex Hernandez).

The Serrano family evolution from La Scala (2000) to Restauration (2015) is a telling example of American transnational food experimenting between old world tastes and a new world of local eating.

Basil Thai and Thai Essence


When looking for a space in West Lafayette to open his Thai restaurant, Chef Ake recalls the confusion of the real estate agent who asked, “What is Thai Food?,” “Is it rice? Or noodles?” Undeterred by the agent’s discouraging attitude, Chef Ake continued his search. Almost by accident he and his wife Nan discovered the location of Basil Thai when they stopped at bubble tea shop up for sale in Chauncey (where they continue to sell bubble tea now). That was over ten years ago. Now they have another location, Thai Essence, with essentially the same food served in a fine dining atmosphere.

Chef Ake owes his confidence in opening a Thai restaurant in small town Indiana to a keen understanding of students having catered many university events (where he was also a student working on a MFA), as well as having worked as a private chef. For him, running the restaurants requires earning the trust of his customers, taking ownership for all details no matter how small and a willingness to learn and adapt.

Basil Thai and Thai Essence are products of the classic American immigrant drive that involves the journey of a well-established film-maker who wanted better, moved to the U.S., worked through a variety of grueling jobs, between jobs out of sheer determination earned a graduate degree and in the process became a business owner and a cultural translator. Given his own difficult students days, one can understand his particular attention to serving student needs. For example, even in our short conversation in preparation for the panel discussion, Chef Ake’s primary concern was making sure we would have hand sanitizer and napkins to ensure no student would get sick. With a caring and generous spirit, he and his wife, Nan, through Basil Thai and Thai Essence are feeding and building a community of adventurous and at home, eaters.




Himanshu and Minal Bhatt relocated, seven years ago, from Orlando (where they owned two Indian street food restaurants) urged by their Purdue-attending son. A familial quality infuses the restaurant. You will find them both running the register, cooking and explaining the menu, as needed. This is an exemplar of a mom and pop store (who happens to be immigrant Indian). The street food menu represents all the regions of India, giving non-South Asians a broad introduction but also South Asians the possibility to enjoy unfamiliar regional tastes. It is a place for casual, fresh food to be enjoyed with friends. In classic deshi (South Asian) familial style they insisted on feeding me. I didn’t resist or complain. It was delicious.

For the Bhatt’s the restaurant is an extension of their family. Even the name, Shaukin is a combination of the names of their daughter and daughter-in-law. Incidentally, the name also references the Hindi word for favorite or favored. They were most excited and proud to share the notes and glowing reviews from their customers. I won’t be surprised if they have all the comments memorized. They thrive on the energy of happy customers. The menu reflects their kind, fun, joyous and accommodating personalities. This small Indiana town suits them well despite the weather where they find people more accepting and appreciative. Or maybe, that assessment is in part a reflection of their own mindset.

I hope you can join us, October 22nd, 2015 at Purdue and celebrate our very own, small town Indiana, GLOCAL eating!

A very special thanks to Kera Lovell, American Studies Ph.D. student and instructor,  for thinking of this and organizing this event!

Warm wishes,


Food as Gift, Interview with Thai Essence Chef Ake Waratap, West Lafayette, Part 3 of 3


 (con’t) Thai Essence, Chef Ake’s insistence on intention, quality, energy and heart is palpable. When asked what would he considers his ‘signature’ dish, he refused to answer with a single dish. Every dish, he said, is made with care. In order to “show” me his philosophy, he pulled out some julienned ginger, thin slices of red and green pepper. “You have to feel it, like cutting through your own skin, smooth slices, no chopping,” he beams. Cooking is not about speed that bruises ingredients, or sloppy wasteful whimsy. It is intentful, considered and respectful. He shows me a beautifully carved radish flower (I am shocked to hear that he learned how to do all his vegetable and fruit carving on his own over YouTube!) and says that he was asked, “Why do we take the time to do this when most customers don’t even notice?” In response, he had answered that the flower is a symbol of care and even if only a few customers notice, it is still worth the effort. So instead of a signature dish to show us his philosophy, chef Ake offers us intricately carved flowers, precisely sliced vegetables, carefully concocted sauces and only by default deliciously executed dishes. As I suspected, he is an exemplar of an object-oriented practice invested in the recognition and respect of each thing as a gift.

True to material thinkers, Chef Ake continues to be fascinated by things and processes that fuel or challenge his commitment to gastronomic appreciation. For example, he is deeply concerned by buffet formats of serving that threaten attention to quality, care and detail. Similarly, he is excited by current farm to table philosophies that respect local ingredients and their producers. He recently returned from an exploration of ramen making in Japan. Curiosity and generosity seem to be driving principles in his food thinking and travels. The major drawback of his attention to detail and personal care is that he has little time to pursue and cultivate his wide range of interests. Creative people suffer this dilemma that leads to frustration or burnout all too frequently. Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister famously takes a “sagmeister” by closing down his office for a year, every seven years. The famed chef of El Bulli, Ferran Adria closed his celebrated Michelin-starred restaurant and instead launched a “food think tank.” I sincerely hope Chef Ake finds a way to sustain his spirit of learning and experimentation. In the meantime, for those of you in the area, I encourage you to meet Chef Ake and visit his restaurant for a regular meal and then a special event (when he experiments with techniques and menu items). Traditional eastern cuisines in the West are both difficult and easy to innovate depending on the gastronomic experience level of the guests. This challenge makes the experimental special events at Thai Essence so fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing your philosophy of food as gift with us, Chef Ake.

Looking forward to many delicious experiments ahead,


Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

Food as Gift – Interview with Chef Ake, Thai Essence, West Lafayette, Indiana : part 2 of 3

(con’t) Chef Ake’s early culinary career as a cook, as a caterer and private chef was fueled with the deep belief in food as a precious gift to be shared. He spent his time generously, he cooked extra portions and a variety of foods, all in an effort to make people feel nurtured. He wanted everyone to feel that they had more than enough to eat (the opposite of his childhood limitations). This spirit of generosity served him well by attracting the goodwill of his customers who happily received his culinary gifts. He managed to translate his childhood moments of “slow” consumption, of making enjoyment last, into making food worthy of slow considered eating. Attentive consumers, one could argue, make attentive makers. Chef Ake’s story reminds me of how designer Raymond Loewy speaks of Biberin, a French drink powder, in his autobiography as his first awareness of passion. After all, how can one reproduce a feeling for others without having experienced it oneself?

The lack of Thai food restaurants drew him and Nan to West Lafayette. If “food as gift” sums up his lessons as a consumer, then “we care” is his primary restaurant philosophy. With no formal culinary schooling, his insistence on detail, caring and learning is evident in every aspect of the restaurant. As we walked through the kitchen, he proudly showed me every spotless detail of the kitchen he and Nan designed. His equipment now five years old looks sparkling new. The screws in the mis-en-place tables are cleaned with pins! All sauces are made in house, what is purchased is of high quality. He only serves what he would eat himself. And, from what I saw, his standards are quite high.

Next time, he shows us his philosophy of “intentful” cooking.

Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

Food as Gift – Interview with Chef Ake, Thai Essence, West Lafayette, Indiana : part 1 of 3


Few food memories begin with abandoned corpses in Buddhist temples, as Chef Ake’s does. Raised in a struggling family in Thailand, young Ake would catch and sell catfish gathered after the rains under the platform of abandoned dead bodies. Lowering his gaze he says that he can still smell the stench. Despite his mother’s warnings, he did this to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola worth less than 5 cents. By chewing and constricting the straw and taking the smallest of sips, he learned to extend his enjoyment of that hard-earned bottle. Opening his second restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana, he installed a coke machine, but now, ironically he no longer craves the taste. The poverty, he says, pushed him to dream of ice-cream, coke, beautiful houses, of televisions in every room and of playing the piano. His family of five shared every meager meal as a gift. “Food is a gift,” says Chef Ake repeatedly.

The days between growing up in Thailand and opening his first restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana is a classic immigrant story of persistence, resourcefulness, hard work and struggle that includes, working every possible restaurant position (front and back of house), multiple jobs, janitorial jobs, catering and being a private chef at a sorority. In addition, he astonishingly managed to keep his dream of being a filmmaker alive by earning a M.F. A from the San Francisco Art Institute (in Thailand he worked in the film industry on television shows and advertising): amazing and humbling to hear him recollect those years. He poetically talks about seeing only two sunsets his first year in the U.S. (Christmas and on 4th of July). He also talks about meeting his wife Nan who like him had hotel and restaurant experience and an M.F.A (in theater). On their first date they watched a movie, separately, unable to decide on the same movie. Their second date at 2 a.m. in the morning was spent in a cemetery (Presidio of San Francisco) after a late night work shift. These two unique individuals had found their match. Their shared love for film, theater, books, museums and galleries, of learning brought them here to West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University.

How does a childhood consumer of coca-cola become a chef who champions attention to detail in a small Mid-western college town? Tune in next time as slow coke drinker Ake evolves into Chef Ake of Thai Essence, West Layette, Indiana.

Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

(Thai) Essential Lessons


This week I had the privilege of volunteering at a fundraiser event benefiting Nepal’s earthquake victims, hosted by Thai Essence in West Lafayette, Indiana. Chef Ake Waratap designed and prepared a six course vegetarian menu (with a secret seventh course, a testament to his generosity). This was my first time in a professional kitchen. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. The strange rhythm of pause-mad rush-pause-extra mad rush was new to me. The challenge to find a place to stand without being in the way of others was overwhelming. “Where can I go, how can I help and more importantly, how can I not mess up?” Were the three worries that persisted the whole five hours I was there. It reminded me of Bill Buford’s description of a professional kitchen in Heat. Don’t get me wrong……. it is precisely this hyper awareness of time and space that makes being in a kitchen so compelling and possibly addictive. It was a joy to watch chef Ake’s attention to detail. Throughout the evening he glanced at his illustrated map of the meal taped to the wall for quick reference. It was as if he was shifting scale between the landscapes of each plate to the movement of whole meal.

Here is what I, a professional kitchen kindergartener, learned:


Course 1: Fresh Basil and Flower Hand Roll

My job was to gently ladle the tamarind sauce in the tomato flowers. I’ve never poured so intently ever. Thank fully there was another very patient volunteer (Thank you Chris) who wiped out my drippy mistakes.



Course 2: Momo

This was art on a plate. Chef Ake recreated the eyes of Buddha in gastronomic form. I learned how to place the red sauce inside the black sauce lining. I also learned how to crimp the dumplings into this round shape (I still need practice on that part). Just like the ladling, the simple process required a lot attention.


Course 3: Green Papaya and Mixed Mushroom Salad

My contribution to this plate was the scattering of the white mushrooms. I learned how to “deliberately scatter,” to fill the plate without touching the rim. Essentially, I was trying to have the mushrooms take up space but not to dominate the plate. I’m amazed how each course became a philosophy lesson about attentive and deliberate action aimed at beauty and yumminess.


Course 4: Pa Lo Tofu Soup

My contribution here was mostly in the placing the green seaweed piece at the appropriate time (too early it would melt into the soup and right before Chef Ake’s application of three tiny drops of truffle oil). The last four bowls, chef Ake, asked me to apply the oil, as he set up for the next course. I messed up and added four instead of three drops. That bowl was rejected. Chef Ake then explained “you have to let the drops fall by themselves, don’t rush, wait.” Again, another moment of zen, practiced.



Course 5: Triple Curry Medley with Rice and Roti

My contribution here was to place the ginger flowers on the plate.


Course 6: Kheer Dessert

My role here was in the making of the small cantaloupe balls hidden in the pudding like little orange jewels.


Course Seven: Mango-Peaflower Water Sticky Rice and Coconut Water Agar Agar

This surprise dessert shaped like two hands in the Namaste position was saying thank you to the diner for their contribution. My small role was shaping the sticky rice for the mango hands to wrap around.

As you can see, mine were only one pair of many hands that went into this meal and event. Even in my tiny role, I learned a lot. It was a lesson, in attentive action, placement, rhythm, detail and love of the craft and most importantly, of other people. I thought I was helping but I think I was helped more. What an odd meditative rush!

With a deep bow of gratitude to Thai Essence and Chef Ake,


Images from Thai Essence facebook page, please follow and like if you live in the area or have traveled through.

Thank you for sharing this image of the eyes of Buddha