Growing up in California I was exposed to a lot of international cuisines. Every year my school would host this cultural event fundraiser that I’d always looked forward to. I got to experience a lot of Mexican and Filipino dishes such as tamales, pancit, and the best lumpia ever! These events really unlocked the start of my love of trying new food and exploring different cultures.
Pursuing her love for cooking
Before the age of 26, I worked at a hospital as a manager of patient services. However, my passion for food drove me to stop running from my cooking dreams and finally sign up for culinary school.
At first I had to find my confidence in the kitchen. I convinced myself for years that I wasn’t good enough to succeed in this industry. My husband, Derek, gave me that push that I needed to even apply. He told me that I was crazy to think I wouldn’t be successful in the industry. I believe that pep talk and knowing that he was on my side gave me the momentum I needed to start this journey in the culinary world.
I studied at Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Oh my, there are so many great memories from my time at Louisiana Culinary Institute (LCI)! If I had to name a few, I would say my vegetables class and international cuisine class had some of my favorite memories. In vegetables, we had to open a vegetarian and/or vegan restaurant and present a menu for it. I chose to do a vegan Korean restaurant and had so much fun working on it. It allowed me to do extensive research on a cuisine I adore and helped me to think outside the box.
International cuisine was also amazing because we learned about a new country everyday. We would first learn about the history of the country, how its major flavor profiles came to be what they are today, and then we cooked with those flavors and enjoyed great dishes as a class.
In LCI I started to get that self doubt again. I had to keep telling myself to stop comparing myself to others, and realize that I was accepted into this school for a reason and that it was time for me to showcase my talents. Once I recognized my full potential, I finally began to find my footing.
I believe my biggest achievement occurred when one of my chef instructors asked me to help him create an Asian inspired dish for a completion. This made me so happy to see that all of my research and experimental cooking I did at home was worth it.
Cooking what she loves
I’ve always felt that the best way to connect to people’s history and culture was through their food. That is why I love cooking more traditional meals. Everyone nowadays tries to put a modern spin on dishes. I prefer to find out why a dish is the way it is, cook it that way, and educate people on those ingredients.
My passion for Asian cuisine has shined through during my time in culinary school. It’s just something about the flavors in the cuisine. I love how no part of any ingredient used goes to waste, and that they can take something so simple, like rice, and turn it into many different things. Also, the aromas of that “Asian Mire Poix” of garlic, ginger, and onion is just so a satisfying!
My favorite thing to make is Thai curries. I love it because it’s so simple to make, it cooks quickly, and it’s versatile. You can make it with meat, or go vegan/ vegetarian with it.
The Future for Nia
On top of helping my husband with menu testing for Meraki (a fusion food concept), I am currently studying for my final practical exams. My culinary practical is on April 26th and my written final is on May 6th. I hope I do well on it, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about them.
In my life and future culinary career I would like to incorporate my passion about sustainable living. I hope by continuing to learn about it and the restaurant industry, I could eventually be a consultant with restaurants on how to be eco-friendly.
Some sustainable tips I would encourage people to do would be to reduce your plastic usage, invest in reusable items such as reusable straws, use bamboo utensils with takeout meals, utilise takeout packaging that is free from plastic lining, and finally have barriers between greasy food and cardboard boxes so that the box can still be recycled.
Lastly, what I hope to do a bit more is to travel. My love for cultures and food has already encouraged me to visit parts of Europe and Central America. As well as plan a trip later this year to South Korea to get the full exposure of their cuisine. I just love and appreciate all cultures and never want to stop traveling and exploring new foods!
To find out more about me visit my Instagram: @the_baking_wanderlust
Also click here to learn all about Derek Lee’s (Nia’s husband) culinary career.