With Breaking Bread, from the start, the focus has been about the meals that make you. If you were waiting for another descriptor, there isn’t another one coming, I really mean the meals that make you - “you”. The meals that define your palate, reshape your perception, “change the game” for what dining experiences mean for you. It’s a lofty goal, but thankfully there’s a world of innovative culinary rockstars to take on the challenge. Today it’s my pleasure to share with you a dish that not only made me excited for each bite, but excited to share with everyone as well.
When you work in an F&B tech company, there is an abundance of “watercooler talk” centered around what’s cooking in our respective kitchens and those of eateries around us. It’s literally part of our job to pay attention to this stuff. It’s not uncommon for meetings to start with a discussion on a newly opened bakery that makes a killer sourdough boule, a recipe for miso pasta, or the latest cooking show which leaves us equal parts excited and hungry. Before proceeding, I want to be clear, I’m definitely not complaining here, we all very much lean into it. That said, it’s quite easy for us to nerd out about the latest in F&B.
Before this meal, I must confess I’d harbored some concerns about ensuring we talked about the “right” meals. Are we putting the spotlight on the transformative meals? Or just what’s the coolest for us to talk about? While I can proudly defend every entry in the Breaking Bread series to date, this lingering question has helped disqualify many potential entries and ensure we keep the standards high.
Sometimes, you’re served food for thought from unlikely sources. I recently watched two television series which have added some more depth to the conversation. The first show of note is the reboot of an old favorite, Iron Chef. Though only a few episodes into the revival, it’s been quite an education so far. The original Iron Chef helped shape my love for food, exposing me to new techniques, ingredients, and fine dining cookery.
While other cooking shows at the time focused on teaching you how to make “simple meals” that “anyone can do” Iron Chef was the antithesis showing what the top 1% of chefs can do when let loose in their element. There was never a warning for, “Don’t try this at home”, honestly most would be too intimidated to ever attempt a recreation. This new Iron Chef is no different. Reverent, meticulous, daring, masterful, the dishes (and my rumbling stomach) speak for themselves. Watching the chefs at work made me want to rush out and make a fine dining reservation. I got an adrenaline rush from seeing the creativity at work - Willy Wonka would bow down to what the culinary world can do now.
On the other side of the consideration was a show that had popped up on my radar through a chef friend’s recommendation. Simply titled “Bear”, this show centers around the ebbs and flows of a young chef struggling to make order out of the chaos of their life and kitchen. Despite being a work of fiction, realism permeates throughout. Whether it be the bottle of Fernet on the counter, the uncannily accurate banter amongst the brigade, or the anxiety-inducing depiction of being “in the weeds” it’s a strange look into kitchen life that simultaneously provoked nostalgia and PTSD. I felt my adrenaline rising as I watched this show as well, but a different kind, one prompted from realizing tickets are piling up and you’ve cooked yourself into a hole that only you can free yourself from. Never have I wanted to get back on the line so badly yet simultaneously been so thankful to have gotten off of it.
I want to pause for a moment to give kitchen staff around the world some props. I hold a lot of respect for the kitchen. I worked the line for a brief time, and after some gnarly burns, countless cuts, crazy scheduling, incredible stress, two unprovoked physical altercations, and a hefty nicotine addiction later - I quit. It was too much for me, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. It is not an easy gig and there were easier ways to turn a buck. The people that make this their livelihood are some truly uniquely tough individuals. Even if it looks like synchronized swimming from the outside, inside the kitchen at times it may as well be the UFC. Seriously, thank you for all you put up with.
The soup which inspired this article is one of my favorites for a lot of reasons, but one of them is how I encountered it. Following an extended period of unwitting hermitism brought about by ongoing COVID restrictions (I live in Taiwan and although it’s not China, we’re still deeply restricted), I made reservations to Wildwood in an effort to shake up the routine of Zoom calls and Ubereats eating experiences. We do what we have to, but you don’t need a Michelin star to tell you variety is the spice of life and nobody enjoys a bland dish. That said, already boasting a Michelin star to his name, Wildwood’s Chef Lam Ming Kin (林明健) would be far more of an authority in that regard.
The soup wasn’t even listed by name on the menu, simply “soup of the day” as an alternative to lobster bisque. Most would jump at the lobster option, but naturally, being an admitted picky eater and resident seafood skeptic, I opted for the “safer” of the two options and gambled with the alternative. I was surprisingly greeted by a deep forest green bowl of soup opaque enough not to reveal most of the ingredients that comprised it. Famished, I dove in without giving the contents much space for consideration. I hate to admit this but I almost relegated it to a “placeholder course” to buy the chefs time to craft their more ambitious dishes. That was a mistake. If you’d asked me while I worked the line if one day I’d effectively write a public love letter to green soup I’d have thought you were crazy. Since then a lot crazier things have happened, and here we find ourselves.
In a single bite of that unassuming soup I was taken on a journey - I appreciated the opening bridge of light, carefully layered notes, a full-bodied follow-through reminiscent of peas but elevated past any pea flavor I’d known before, and finally a hint of saltiness cut through with just the right amount of lemon for acidity to deliver home the show. That single bite did everything for me. I was brought back to Dearborn, Michigan trying lentil soup in a Middle Eastern restaurant for the first time. I was having the first spoonful of soup after coming in from the snow. I was a young cook watching the Food Network brimming with possibility. I was seated in a restaurant enjoying the hell out of a bowl of soup. It was a reminder of everything I love about food.While “Iron Chef” reminded me of what food can be, and “Bear” reminded me of what food was to me, the bowl of pea soup reminded me of where I am. I’m now happily a tourist in any kitchen but my own, I’ve settled into my role of “diner” quite comfortably. The former an illustration of the goal, the latter an illustration of the grind, both capture the spirit of what we fell in love with - food and its infinite possibilities. Maybe amidst the gelées and infusions and other gastronomic acrobatics the vision wavered, but with a single bowl of soup I was brought back. Even the most unassuming canvasses can be the entry point for a magical experience. I’ll be happily watching from the sidelines, but always cheering for the show.