My Where and When

A view of San Francisco Bay.

A view of San Francisco Bay.

I was born and spent my childhood on the North Shore of Boston where I developed a love for historic house museums, apples and whales, even while I idolized a glamorous ideal of city life. The dream of city living took me to New York for over a decade. Now, I consider myself a New Yorker who enjoys living in California. We (me + husband + dog) live in a high-rise building, and I barely know how to drive. But daisies grow spontaneously right outside my door, and my neighborhood farmer’s market sells avocados and persimmons. What’s not to like?

I’m a cause person. I’m never without one, or several. That’s where my professional life started, working for progressive causes, mostly the plight of refugees around the world. I did that by helping to tell their stories, hoping to make people think and act.

Then my creative side came calling, and it called me into the kitchen. I studied pastry at the French Culinary Institute, in New York, and founded CocoaVino in 2004 with a compatriot from refugee work. CocoaVino was an artisanal chocolate company committed to using only organic, fair trade and locally farm-sourced ingredients in our hand-made bonbons and confections. We were the first ones out there doing that.

And every flavor of chocolate had its own story. That’s where writing recipes and writing fiction melded — and both were better for it.

It got pretty fancy. I was named a “Tastemaker” by Food & Wine Magazine in 2005, and my work got all over the media, including: Gourmet, New York Times, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, InStyle, Town & Country, Daily Candy, Metropolitan Home Design 100 and Wallpaper.

By 2009 I was ready to see daylight again (anyone who’s worked in a kitchen knows what I’m talking about), so I went out into the wider world of food. I ended up moving to San Francisco to work in seafood and learned way more about fish than I ever thought I would.

In 2011, I co-founded Polished Brands with a fellow chef. Polished Brands is a marketing and communications firm for food and drink products, projects and films. We help them tell their stories, and we help them look good doing it.

My How and Why

Oatmeal cookies with whisky frosting.

Oatmeal cookies with whisky frosting.

The Brillat-Savarin quote “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” gets repeated a lot.

I prefer the more declarative “I am what I cook.”

I am what I cook, and what I cook often becomes what I think and what I write. Eating, cooking, writing and reading all are part of the same creative ecosystem for me. They pollinate my imagination. Without all of them, nothing grows.

In food as in writing, I resist strict genre categories. I like a little sweet in my savory and a little savory in my sweet, caramelizing my turnips and putting rosemary in my cookies.

I’m consciously omnivorous. I eat most everything from game meat to tofu and try to make good decisions. Living on the top of the food chain is a messy business.

I believe with conviction that there are no bad vegetables, only bad preparations. Although I don’t really understand the point of kohlrabi. It seems more like a stunt than dinner.

I love to bake. I love the alchemy of pastry wherein the same few basic ingredients — flour, butter, sugar, eggs — turn out an endless variety of wonder with just small tweaks of flavoring and changes in technique.

I sneak cardamom into my baked goods, a product of spending a university semester abroad in Sweden where I fell in love with all things Scandi, especially saunas, dill, and rye bread.

I liquor everything, from braises to muffin batter. Trust me, it makes whatever you're cooking better.

I have a very on-trend fascination with fermentation. I can trace it back to an early obsession with my grandmother’s garlic dill pickles and the way my mom always cooked sauerkraut with apples and onions — but the fact that it’s everywhere right now doesn’t hurt. I make my own yogurt. I have jars of various pickling experiments lined up on my counter like a mad scientist lab. Preserved lemons are changing my life. Transformation is everywhere.

Lots of my savory food ends up vaguely Italianized. Writers (and cooks) having a crush on Italy is certainly not original, but I was hooked from my very first visit. There are few days so bad that they’re beyond the influence of pasta.

Every day starts with coffee, because I do not excel at morning. Every day ends with wine and a bit of chocolate, because civilization is good for you.

And if I want to capture a character, or need to find my way through a scene transition, I’m probably going to have to go into the kitchen to cook about it first.

Contact

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For freelance writing and editing projects, you can reach me at alishalumea@gmail.com

For food and beverage market strategy, export assistance, brand building and PR, please contact me at Polished Brands.

For more on my professional background, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Or connect on twitter @gastroconomy and @AlishaLumea and on Pinterest