Episode 01. Los Angeles

“There’s Nothing More American Than Chinatown”

Los Angeles’s Chinatown is experiencing a food revolution. Only the eateries making a name for themselves aren’t Chinese, they’re Thai, Korean, Mexican… and even Southern. In episode one of The Great American Cooking Story, I explored two of the restaurants shaping the future of L.A.’s Chinatown: The Little Jewel of New Orleans and Chimney Coffee House. Join me on my adventure of great food made with local ingredients and sold at affordable prices as I explore the role that these two restaurants are playing in Chinatown’s revitalization.

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The Origin Story

In one year I went from thinking I should be making documentaries to crowdfunding my way on board a train across the country to create a series of them.

April 2014. Chicago. The Purple Pig.

The Purple Pig is one of those places that doesn’t post its menu prices on its website. It’s not a place where you find yourself at 2 p.m. on a weekday with a journalist’s salary unless you were me, someone who was in a quarter-life crisis and didn’t know it.

I was meeting with a former professor of mine, someone who has come to be a mentor to me. I had meant for the conversation to be a chance to catch up. But as are most meetings with your mentors, it turned out to be about life instead.

“Purpose” was our topic of conversation, in particular, what mine would be. This was not a new subject for us, as she had helped me figure out my senior year of college whether I would move with my friends to NYC to pursue acting, or continue down the path of journalism. Ultimately, I picked the latter, and was working as a Capitol Hill reporter in Washington, D.C.

“Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Eventually I’d like to move into documentary work. I want to be telling stories that inspire people to act.”

She looked at me. “Why can’t you do that now?” Continue reading “The Origin Story”

A potato is a potato no matter how you pronounce it.

Potatos

The people who flock to marketing and public relations careers have always had a place at the table in my life. When my day job was in journalism, they were the uninvited guests who I only shared a dish with when they had something I wanted too. Now that my day job is in video production, I find that I am regularly eating the food they put on the table, hoping the dessert I brought is enough to secure my place for tomorrow night too.Mashed Potatos

I confronted this power shift in the span of a few short weeks at the new job. I was surrounded by first a sea of sly advertising professionals and then a herd of hungry communications specialists. I posed as one of them in the middle of networking happy hours at industry conferences, Potato Chipsboasting of my company’s work in visual storytelling as though I was a seasoned producer. I added more people on LinkedIn in those three weeks than I did in my whole existence on the social network.

How little I knew–and know–about our shared worlds. If you’re doing this for the right reasons, Mr Potato Headyou’re in journalism, film, television, advertising, marketing and PR to tell a story that taps into human emotions and inspires action.  Whether that story is told on behalf of a company or the country depends on what step of the process you execute. I thought we were all at the same dinner table. Turns out we’re all just cooks in the kitchen.

Goodbye, Hello

There are many facts of life and one of them is that people change jobs.

There are a few reasons that people change jobs–they move, they get laid off, they get a better job–but there’s one constant to the act of job changing, and that is that people are always sad to leave.

I never watched the final season of “The Office” when it aired but I suppose that’s just as well because over the last two weeks it has been my dinner table companion. If you haven’t seen the final season of “The Office” I won’t spoil too much for you. But I will say that in wrapping up the show that final season, every reason you would ever leave an office happens: some move, others get laid off and still others get a better job. And there’s crying into cake, goodbye dance parties, promises to stay in touch…the usual components that come along with the act of leaving.

We all know that sometimes it is our friends leaving and sometimes it is us who will leave, but when it comes right down to it, it’s part of our shared human experience that transitions will happen.

Taxi Protest
Me, trying to find out why the taxi drivers were protesting by honking and driving around the Capitol in circles. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

So why–when we know this is coming be it tomorrow or next month or next year–why do we struggle to balance the sadness of leaving something behind with the excitement of starting something new?

I’m leaving National Journal. My first real job out of college, where I succeeded and stumbled, figuring out who I was and what I was capable of. I started out on the health care beat, where after a month and a half on the job, HealthCare.gov debuted and crashed and I spent the rest of the fall covering what would become the 2013 AP News Story of the Year.

After former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, I snapped a photo of Speaker John Boehner. I probably gained 300 Twitter followers that day.
After former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, I snapped a photo of Speaker John Boehner. I probably gained 300 Twitter followers that day.

From there I transitioned to covering Congress, studying the faces of lawmakers on the long metro commute to Capitol Hill only to realize that they’re all much older now than when their directory photos were taken. I quickly took to the foreign policy beat, writing about the one issue that will keep on going even when the political parties can’t agree on how deal with it. And it’s been a busy summer too; between the advances of ISIS in Iraq, Russia’s encroachment (invasion?) of Ukraine and the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, each story that it feels like I was there for from the start will keep on going until it morphs into the next chapter.

You'll always be my ominous House of Cards Capitol but I'll never be your Zoe Barnes.
You’ll always be my ominous House of Cards Capitol but I’ll never be your Zoe Barnes.

It’s been a good run. I walk away having learned who’s the friendliest face in the Senate, why the U.S. can’t keep its boots off the ground in the Middle East, and how to challenge charges from my health insurance company. I’ll miss my friends, my colleagues, my editors, and Rosita, the woman makes sure there’s coffee waiting for our tired souls as we start each day. I won’t miss the never-ending PR emails or the vitriolic commenters.

Waiting for a press conference to begin in the basement of the Capitol after a Pentagon briefing.
Waiting for a press conference to begin in the basement of the Capitol after a Pentagon briefing.

I’m headed to Green Buzz Agency. My second real job and I can’t keep my face from lighting up when people ask me about it. I’m going to be the new Assistant Producer, working on corporate client videos and expanding our film work into original documentaries. I’ll be doing everything from researching to interviewing to script writing to working on set to editing, but I’ll also be writing the blog, public speaking, managing the intern program and planning events. It’s a start-up, so I get to wear a lot of hats, and with such a small team, my input will really shape the direction and the success of our work. And it’s going to be a lot of work. But multimedia storytelling is where my heart has always been, and I’m so thrilled about the chance to build my creative visual skills. I’ll still be in the D.C. area, so despite the fact that I’m leaving, it’s not really goodbye.

It still feels like it though. It’s a strange limbo, knowing you are closing the door, knowing what you’re saying goodbye to, but not having the familiar comfort of knowing what comes next.

In the final season of “The Office,” people who had left come back. They weren’t gone forever, they were just doing something else, having their own adjacent narrative.

A new adventure.

And you can see it in their eyes. They’re really happy.