Last Mother's Day, I filmed an interview with my now 89-year-old grandma and her 96-year-old best friend in their assisted living home in Queens, NY.
The shoot was for what would become the season premiere of my web series, Cooking with Granny, where in each 10-minute episode, grandmas from different cultures in New York share their secret family recipes and poignant life stories. Think of it as a cultural food tour of New York City guided by Grandma. Fans have even called me the Anthony Bourdain of grandmothers' kitchens.
At 60, my grandma came to the U.S. to fill in the gaps that my parents' immigrant hustle created. Feeding me and my siblings was her number one priority. It was in the kitchen that I'd watch her clean and salt each cabbage leaf for her homemade kimchi or lead an unflinching massacre of 5 pounds of blue crab in the sink. Between each knowing chop, I would also hear snippets of her personal story. How she dodged Soviet bullets and wild dogs in the woods at night; how she held onto her child (my aunt) all the way from North to South Korea; how she lost another child to wartime starvation.
These stories stayed with me. As did my insatiable appetite. And once I honed my storytelling skills through my stints at New York magazine, CNN and Columbia Journalism School, I had to tell my grandma's story in the most authentic way -- in her kitchen, around cooking. Hence, Cooking with Granny.
But I realized that we all love our grandmothers. And they love to feed us. So I opened up my series to tell the stories of other grandmas, too. In New York, where I grew up and currently live, these are the stories of immigrant cultures and families. And so my camera lingers longer than an Instagram snapshot on an ethnic dish. It captures the faces, voices and people of those who brought "kimchi," "spaghetti" and "masala" into our vernacular and taught our modern day celebrity chefs how to cook. And our grandmothers' stories -- they reflect watershed moments in human history.
In the year since that shoot, my grandma has been steadily losing her sense of taste, mobility, and cooking skills. She's still the most popular granny on the block -- not a day goes by when her friends aren't ringing her doorbell. Her cooking tips and words of wisdom still live on in me and my project.
If you have a grandma's recipe you'd like to share, submit one along with a short anecdote about the dish. Something funny, something sad, something culturally significant. I want to hear it all! The winning submissions will get featured on the show and/or the blog.
So on Mother's Day, go cook with your granny and lend her your ears. Learning from granny can be so delicious.
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