Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Christine Jagolino

Christine Jagolino is ready to eat, Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 2010.
I know Christine Jagolino as a fellow tv producer, so when I received her message from Hong Kong I wondered what she was shooting there.  It turns out that Christine (or "Jag" as she was known in the world of television) has reinvented herself since I last saw her and her new life is an enviable one.  I normally take great pleasure in writing biographies of the people I profile on this site, but because I haven't seen Christine in a while I asked her to fill me in on the details of her life in the past four years.  
I moved to Hong Kong three years ago during the writer's strike, and made a career switch from tv to fashion.  While on my perpetual quest to eat my way through Hong Kong, I've been lucky enough to taste Bangkok, Thailand; Saigon, Vietnam; Manila, Philippines; Chengdu, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Macau; and for balance Rome & Florence, Italy.  There is no greater way to learn about a culture than through food.  There is no greater way to make a friend than by sharing a meal.  To even out all this indulgent eating, I spend my free time playing dodgeball, rock climbing, hiking, racing, watching as much tv as possible, and playing the harmonica.
I've attached a picture of me dining in Jakarta, Indonesia - Sept 2010.  I was taken to this restaurant by a vendor, and just as we were seated food was being stacked in front of us three plates high!  This is obviously too much food for 3 people, and later we found out we only paid for the items we ate.  I'm not sure what happened to the dishes we didn't eat, and I prefer not to think about that.  Perhaps it was an Indonesian version of a buffet, except all the dishes are brought to you.
When I last talked to her, Christine was on her way to a private Sichuan dinner and she promised to report back on it.  This led to a discussion of the incredible diversity of Hong Kong cuisine and before I knew it, ESD has it's first international correspondent.  I am, at heart a researcher, and I'm excited to expand the blog into the world of international cuisine.  

In her new role as ESD's Hong Kong Correspondent, Christine will file regular reports on Sunday dinners in Hong Kong, and any other places she happens to visit.  She is also available to answer questions related to Hong Kong cuisine and the international rules of dodgeball.

The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire

1.  What is your favorite food to eat?  Why?
This question is like Sophie’s Choice.

The easy answer is avocado.  If there is avocado somewhere on the menu, there is a 99% chance I’ll order it.  I guess I really am a California girl!  My mom also makes avocado shakes, and that tastes like my childhood.  

I like a lot of variety.  Different cuisines.  I spend a lot of time thinking about food.

2.  What is your favorite food to cook?  How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
Other than a plate of veggies, I don’t cook that often because 1) my kitchen here is the size of my coat closet in LA (no joke) 2) “western” groceries are expensive 3) eating “locally” is cheap.

I guess my favorite food to cook (always for others) is comfort food.  It makes people happy.  Especially here where we don’t have homemade meals that often, and we Americans are away from home.  I’ve made sweet mac and cheese many times, but it’s one of those dishes that you can only have once in a while.  I probably make it about once a year, and I’ll serve it when hosting a party.  I used to make it for my annual Sunset Junction pre-party.  And I made it in Hong Kong once when I had access to an apartment with an oven.  I’m planning on making it for Christmas.

3.  Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/it an inspiration to you?
My parents!  My mom knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.  My dad has no idea what he’s doing in the kitchen and comes up with something brilliant.  Both of them work full time and then some, but they always managed to put something on the table for me and my sis.  

When my mom worked nights, my dad would style really simple dinners for us.  Bologna with rice scooped from an ice cream scooper and a fancy cut orange.  We got a big kick out of this.  

My parents love to eat and take much pleasure out of food.  Anything goes with them.  I once called them during dinner and found they were eating mom-made tacos and matzo ball soup.  That’s a pretty accurate reflection of their house.

4.  What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
Not a utensil, but I have to say ovens.  Hong Kong apartments are not equipped with them.  Sometimes not even a stove top, although just that would be sufficient for a Hongkonger’s needs anyway.  Dining out is much more common than eating in, and I don’t blame them, especially if your family of four lives in 600 sq feet.  

After 7 months of living here, I moved from a serviced apartment to a grand apartment of 400 sq feet.  It’s a great place, great location, but can be challenging with the closet and kitchen situation.  It was weird, immediately after moving in I freaked out because I had no oven.  I quickly purchased a turbo countertop convection oven and now can sleep at night. 

5.  What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
I was traveling last weekend and my Sunday dinner consisted of cupcakes.  They were really delish.  I would have had a proper meal after that but didn’t need it.  Just some wine to follow.

6.  When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal that brought your friends and family together on a regular basis?  If so, what you you eat?
Growing up we had dinner together every night.  No tv.  Just conversation.  This was very important to my parents and that’s just another reason why they are my greatest culinary influence.  There was never any extended family close by so it was just us four, but for special occasions, birthdays, and holidays we’d get together with family friends.

On an average night, we’d have meat, vegetables, and rice.  Always rice.  My parents get a little nutty if they don’t have rice every day.  Pork chops, chicken adobo, meatloaf…

My mom’s special occasion menu has evolved.  I don’t really remember what was involved in the earlier years but I’m sure there was lumpia, chicken salad, and spinach dip.  The chicken salad has evolved too.  Hers has apples in it, and now it has grapes and nuts.  It’s really good.  Now the menu would have Chilean sea bass and/or carne asada.

7.  Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
I wish I had room for one.  But I have inherited some plants.

Growing up we had an apricot tree, and we’d end up with more fruit than we could ever eat.  So we made jam and gave it as presents.

8.  What is your ultimate food fantasy?
A career in travel & food writing/photography/tv!  

9.  If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be?  What would you want to eat?
I want to come up with a smart and fun answer, but best I can do is Prince William.  He likes to cook for his lady but manages to catch the kitchen on fire.  I think it would be a fun time.  And perhaps my only chance to intercept him before the wedding.  The menu would be gentleman’s choice.

10.  Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is_________." 
I stand by the obvious answer.  Good company and good wine.