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  • Chef Introduction

    Alex Raij

    I am a Jewish Argentinean girl. My parents are from Argentina, first generation. I grew up speaking Spanish, very aware that we were different from everybody else in Minnesota. We physically looked different. We ate different foods. But some of the things that we ate that I considered Argentinean were actually Spanish or Italian or, for that matter, Jewish.

    I am a Jewish Argentinean girl. My parents are from Argentina, first generation. I grew up speaking Spanish, very aware that we were different from everybody else in Minnesota. We physically looked different. We ate different foods. But some of the things that we ate that I considered Argentinean were actually Spanish or Italian or, for that matter, Jewish.

    I didn’t know any better, I thought that was what Argentinean food was. The older I got and more interested in food I became, I began to understand that although the foods my family loved came from Argentina, they were there by way of the Italians, Spaniards, and Jews populated Argentina.

    I grew up mostly eating home-cooked meals, so it was the biggest treat to go a restaurant. We would mostly go to ethnic restaurants as a family, but sometimes fancier restaurants when there was a birthday or other celebration. I always loved restaurants and felt comfortable in them. In fact, I used to play restaurant as a kid and I thought that it would be fun to grow up in a restaurant (the way that my kids are growing up now). I just knew that would be my business someday.

    My parents ate a lot of Chinese food. It wasn't because the Chinese restaurants were kosher or Jewish-friendly or whatever; my parents were just really drawn to the well-designed flavors. For me, Asian cuisine satisfied the standards of flavor that I was used to at home. We ate everything and anything, but the food was always well seasoned and balanced.

    In Minneapolis, there was a huge Hmong and Vietnamese community that established a number of Vietnamese restaurants. So at an early age I started to know Vietnamese food. Then I started eating a lot of Thai food with friends. We didn't have a lot of good Indian food but I would go with my friend Ben, who was a vegetarian, to this fleabag motel to eat Indian food. The food, not the atmosphere, was the priority.

    Food was always on my mind like a preoccupation. It was the way that I connected everything in the world. So I ended up working in restaurants and with food. The intersection of cultures continues today. I live with my family on the Lower East Side where there are a lot of Latino, Jewish, and Asian food influences. My daughter, who is three and a half, has a really good palate and she likes Dominican food like braised meat and rice. And then she loves her Chinese dumplings.

    And even though I work in restaurants, a lot of times when I feed my kids I reach back to what I liked to eat as a child. Sometimes, it's very moving to share with my kids the dishes my grandma made when I was their age. Sometimes it’s so emotional, it's almost painful. The recipes here represent the journey I want to take my kids on—introducing an exciting world of flavors from various cultures, and opening up endless possibilities to explore from there.

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