|Tuesday, 22 June 2010 16:21|
Chef Josie Smith-Malave is fulfilling a prediction she made to her father as a teenager. "My name Josie is going to be just like Madonna." Her father, a man fond of playing Tony Robbins and Zig Ziggler tapes during dinner, told her something that's stayed with her ever since, "Only you can stop yourself."
Since appearing on Bravo's Top Chef in 2006, this entrepreneur has been spinning too many plates to consider stopping.
Last year, she was executive sous chef for the New York Yankees, "But once you've won the world-series, what else is there?" she asked herself. She's stocked her inventory with answers: an interactive social-networking website, event producing, a take-out concept, a television concept, teaching classes, giving cooking demonstrations and even a film with a former Sundance winner.
She offers three-day classes to adults and a one-day class for kids called Playing With Your Food, helping them to understand "where their food comes from; not being afraid of it." She hopes to impart to younger diners the idea of "opening the 'fridge, instead of going to the corner for a burger," admitting, "Even though I might like the BK burger, it's not good for you...it's over-processed food."
An old friend (she was a New York club kid with) is now her new partner in two ventures: the DinnerSocialLife website and event producing. Their first collaboration, for a TiVO party at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Plaza, combined his twenty years as a former night-life impresario with Josie's talents and contacts bringing fruition to their shared vision.
Among her New York clients and friends, Josie is the source for dinner reservations, they then expect to be dazzled by her expertise at ordering. A fine dining experience among models, athletes, jewelers, financiers and stunt people usually turns into a request for after-dinner drinks. Josie makes the call among her many contacts then escorts her guests and clients to the V.I.P. rooms at clubs.
She reached a turning point when she realized, "Wait, there's a business behind this. The Chef Josie Culinary Tour." Taking it further than having to personally host each tour, the website will allow people who set up their own profile to access Josie's culinary calendar. And her picks will include recipes and discounts on hotels, travel, movies, theater and clubs.
"I've taken a lot of risks in my life. Now it's time to go into business for myself. I don't feel the food culture is getting out of me everything they could if I stay in the back of the kitchen."
Citing her age of 35 as the beginning of another cycle of seven, she feels she's become an official adult now by realizing she must take advantage of her resources now. She tells young chefs, "When you get into this industry, know what you want. Until you know, you roam aimlessly."
And Josie has found her aim, "This is the year for me. My projects have been simmering for years...the meat's so tender and ready to fall off the bone. This year is all about plating."
Josie's mother taught her to surround herself with "people who love and support me," and added that no one supports her more than her mother who taught her to cook. "Mom is my heart and my soul. She's phenomenal. I'll [go home] and ask her to make rabo - oxtail with big butter beans - I crave that."
Her father had his own lessons to impart. He had custody of Josie and her siblings and his initial specialty was Spam, tomatoes and rice. "He's from Georgia. We wouldn't eat it. We'd call Mom, crying ‘Dad is making us eat tomatoes and rice!' He'd alternate it with something he learned in the Navy called S.O.S.: toasted, buttered, white bread with a milky mixture of meat on top. By comparison, it was delicious!"
Her grandfather was an American G.I. from Georgia who met her grandmother in the Philippines in World War II. Josie thinks her mother must have had a talk with her father because he came home one day with a Filipino cookbook to "find his way back to his roots."
From such a diverse culinary palette, Josie ably identifies trends in cooking and blends them into dishes she makes her own. She says all cultures maintain certain foods as a part of their cultural claim on the gastronomic landscape, but in the end, it's all marketing, "new ways to sell old things." Citing Scotch bonnet and habanero peppers are the same thing just as leafed cilantro and coriander seeds come from the same plant.
When asked if she identifies as Latina or Asian or "Chino-Latino," she laughed and claimed, "All three and then some. I'm a USDA prime piece of Puerto Rican Italian Filipino." She claims all of her ethnic genetics by labeling herself a "PRIF."
"Being a multiculti girl from a multiculti city, I've eaten many different foods." When she aims to recreate them, "I want to tap into the soul of a country, culture, cuisine through aroma, texture, taste." And while she's French-classically trained, it shows up mainly as technique mixed with green market sustainable farming.
Her childhood andz her professional career as a chef, educator and world traveler have seasoned her with so many influences she calls her brand of food "Global Soul."
"Regardless of what I'm cooking, I put soul in it, love in it...it's no longer a secret: love is the secret ingredient."