Cooking for friends

When you’re with your friends and get hungry, ordering food seems like the first thing that comes to mind. For junior Alex Tsai, however, he prefers to make his own uniquely delectable courses and share them with his friends.

Tsai developed an interest in cooking when he was in middle school after turning to the Food Network channel on TV.

“I started watching [Food Network] one day when nothing else was good on TV. Plus I always found it entertaining to watch someone else cook. My favorites were definitely ‘Chopped’ and ‘Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,’” Tsai said. “I don’t [watch them anymore] but I still watch people cook on YouTube. There are a lot of channels that give helpful tips and have really great recipes.”

At first, Tsai only started experimenting in freshman year with recipes he found when he was hanging out with his friends and they didn’t have enough money. But what began as an alternative to buying food from restaurants turned into a deeper passion for serving up foods for them to enjoy.

“We would get hungry and no one really had money to order pizza so I would go to the kitchen and just start cooking random things to eat,” Tsai said. “The feedback was generally positive so that really inspired me to continue cooking. At first my mom was against it but as time progressed, she became more supportive of it and even teaches me the do’s and the don’ts.”

Tsai usually makes dishes for his friends’ parties, which consist of snack foods and a larger dinner meal. The collection of dishes he has served ranges in various types of cuisine and include focaccia bread, Korean fried chicken, poutine and panna cotta.

“I realized my passion for cooking when after these parties I would start going home and doing research on what I should do for the next one and I did have an interest in it but I didn’t have a way to start,” Tsai said.

Preparing several food items for a large group of people is no easy task. It usually takes Tsai a few days prior to the party to decide on what recipes he wants to use and what ingredients he needs to purchase. He doesn’t start cooking until he arrives at his friend’s house so that the food is hot and fresh. With the constant practice, he had been able to hone his cutting and cooking techniques.

“In the beginning [my difficulty] was definitely the knife work. I had issues handling the knives and was always worried about cutting myself,” Tsai said. “I felt kind of prideful and as I continued I felt more confident in my abilities. Nowadays the difficulty is just knowing how much I should be making.”

His motivation for continuing with this interest stems largely from his friends. Tsai has even bonded with mutual friends who also share his passion for cooking. Together, they cook, try each other’s dishes and give feedback on parts to improve.

“At the parties we would cook something small for each other to eat. Then we talk about the flavor profiles of it, if it works or if it doesn’t and how to improve it and what not,” Tsai said. “[I enjoy] getting the positive feedback and seeing everyone just become happier. It feels good, [my friends] all think that I should pursue a career in the culinary industry.”

A future in the restaurant business is not unlikely and with the support of his friends, Tsai hopes to be able to continue this love of cuisine and share it with others.

“I want to pursue this as a career. I want to be a chef and owner of my own restaurant in the future,” Tsai said. “But I plan on getting a business degree and then going to culinary school afterward. I always try to find flaws with my cooking because I want to improve and I want to get better.”

By Sabrina Wan, Staff writer

Photo courtesy of Alex Tsai