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My friend, Aida Mollenkamp, has always been a foodie from the day I met her in San Francisco. In the past four to five years I have lived in Beijing, Aida has blossomed into a celebrity food expert with shows on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. It just goes to show, there’s no limit to where a good appetite will take you. Your appetite is your passion. Feed it and follow it. Aida is a TV chef, author, and food adventurer documenting her explorations at AidaMollenkamp.com.
Where did you grow up?
Hermosa Beach, California
How did your career in the realm of food begin?
Looking back, it’s pretty natural that I ended up in food as our family life has always centered on it; however, I wasn’t focused on food as a career until I went to college. In fact, I was planning to become a dancer or doctor until a skiing accident put me out of commission and eventually led me to the kitchen. Once I decided to make a job out of cooking, I found myself drawn to the right-left brain combination that editorial work allowed and I started down the path to become a food editor. Becoming a TV host only really came to mind when I started doing videos for CHOW.com and they started getting noticed by the likes of executives at the Food Network.
What was your favorite meal as a kid?
My Italian background reigns supreme when it comes to my food memories so anything pasta-based is my go-to nostalgia food. In particular, my mother’s spinach and ricotta stuffed shells baked with tomato sauce is something I could eat endlessly. This is a simple, quick version of the dish that I did on Ask Aida a few years ago.
These days, do you cook at home often? What is your ‘go-to’ meal?
When I’m not traveling, I cook at home on a daily basis as I’m constantly working on new recipes and new ideas. I cook very seasonally so my meals are often based on what looks good at the market. Even so, have personal favorites like this low-fuss, healthy shrimp dish coated in a spicy, cilantro-laden sauce known as Piri Piri.
What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco? What is your favorite dish there?
That’s an almost impossible question to answer because we’re blessed with a lot of good food in San Francisco. Right now I’m evangelizing for Mission Chinese Food because it is bold and fun. The flavors are traditionally Chinese in origin but the way chef Danny Bowien combines them is decidedly modern from the tingly lamb stew and the barbecue brisket (a twist on Peking duck) to salt cod fried rice and an Asian-slant on corned beef; that and the fact you’re in an off-putting grungy spot in the heart of the Mission that’s turning out expertly executed dishes at very affordable prices? It’s good stuff.
What is the best food to eat on a date?
What is your idea of comfort food?
Any kind of tomato sauce-based dish with freshly handmade pasta — it’s a perfect combo of comfort and technique that I respect infinitely when it’s well executed.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Aside from my ridiculous addiction to Glee? No seriously, it’s bad. But when it comes to food, my guilty pleasure would be the Take 5 candy bar as it’s an awesome mix of crunchy, salty, gooey, and sweet and it takes all my will power to resist them when I come across them. Luckily, it’s a pretty hard candy bar to find so I only eat it a couple of times a year.
What is the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
During the longest dinner I ever attended — it was about 20 courses (!) — we were served cockscomb, as in the crest on the head of a rooster. I’ve probably eaten stranger, more intimate parts of bulls, lamb, and other animals, but the texture of the cock’s comb was like nothing else I’ve ever tried. It was gelatinous and flavorless and was so un-enjoyable for me it made my face turn hot and flush and made me ill to my stomach.
If you were on death row, what would you request for your ‘last meal’?
Something with dark, great-quality chocolate like this double chocolate malted tart. —
Aida’s favorite recipes