Success Stories

Kitchen Confidential

A devastating stroke at age 21 ended my dancing career but led me to my true calling.

Kitchen Confidential
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Just brushing my teeth was an exercise in awkwardness, as I stabbed the toothbrush into my clenched right hand, applied toothpaste, then switched to my left hand to brush. I had to ask my mom to pull my hair back into a ponytail. Slowly, though, with the help of my therapists, my mom, and Brian, I became adept at tasks I'd once taken for granted. But there were only so many hours of physical therapy I could tolerate, only so many hours I could stand having my gait corrected by professionals or being asked to move the stiff fingers of my right hand. I needed a purpose–one that could satisfy me the way school and dance once had. The seeds of that purpose were planted one afternoon, after a difficult day of rehab, my muscles sore, my legs heavy, my faculties exhausted. I sat down at the kitchen table to watch my mother cook. I found myself savoring the aromas of the kitchen, watching her concentration and absorption during the process of prepping. That inspiring afternoon turned into a daily routine. We'd make idle conversation, and I'd eagerly taste her handiwork. And then she handed me a spoon and challenged me to start cooking for myself.

Beginning with that stir, cooking became both a break from physical therapy and an extension of it; an excuse to practice my dexterity and exercise my creativity at the same time. I would shuffle to my mom's cookbook shelf and thumb through her classics for recipes from Julia Child, Jacques Pèpin, and Alice Waters. And cooking became a joyful experience. I loved to be alone in the kitchen–my thoughts consumed with simmering pots, sizzling pans, and rhythmic chopping. Soon I was crafting recipes of my own, feeding my family and friends with my signature crisp roast chicken with roasted fennel and apple slaw, springtime hash topped with a poached egg, and watermelon sorbet with crunchy coconut tuiles.
In 2003, after years of physical and occupational therapy coupled with enthusiastic experimentation in the kitchen, I started a catering business, Nosheteria. At first, I was nervous about presenting myself as a onearmed, limping chef, but Brian, who is now my husband, encouraged me to take the plunge. At my first event, a cocktail party at the Berkeley Art Museum, I realized that my physical limitations weren't an issue for my clients. As I watched the partygoers gush over my hors d'oeuvres, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. Soon, Nosheteria blossomed into a food blog (nosheteria.com), where online visitors sample my recipes and savor anecdotes from my kitchen.

My newfound career has not solved every problem in my life. There are times I glance down at my right hand hanging limply at my side and I want to scream. I still need help lifting a heavy roasting pan into the oven or scraping that last bit of cake batter out of a mixing bowl. I was not the most patient person before my AVM, and after eight years, I'm still learning. I will never be a professional dancer. But there's a certain choreography to my cooking: The simmering pans and rattling pot lids are my orchestra; the dinner guests my audience. And a warm, satisfying meal completes the performance.

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