Meet & Eat: Faye Leong, Serious Eats Intern
Note: Faye started interning with us in May, but we sort of met her a year ago when her impressive daily frozen yogurt regimen was made known. It's no lie! This girl knows how to put away the fro-yo. And diet Sunkist. And halloumi sandwiches. She was the first SE sales and marketing intern, and an all-star one at that, but did so much more. Like inspire a fire extinguisher purchase! Don't worry, Faye, we'll keep that little toaster incident on the downlow. —Erin
Name: Faye Leong
Location: San Francisco Bay Area and Montreal, Quebec
Occupation: Student and eater
Website/Twitter: Twitter still confuses me. Isn't it just a constantly updated Facebook status? I'm surprisingly not very tech-savvy for working at a blog
Diet orange soda, Splenda, and whipped cream. My overconsumption of these things grosses everyone out. Once or twice a month I'll impulsively buy a canister of whipped cream from the store which I like to eat on its own, straight from the nozzle, in a span of one to two hours.
Describe your perfect meal.
I always found this a cruel question. Does it have to have any semblance of harmony? If not, a plate of nigiri sushi, Crazy Bread (cheesy breadsticks you dip in ranch and marinara from a particular place in my hometown), and a bowl of Kraft Mac and Cheese. With a fro-yo to top it off.
What food won't you eat?
Nothing. It's almost gotten weird. I love offensive, fishy, funky tastes and weird textures. And as I grow older, I grow less afraid of trying Andrew Zimmern-status bizarre foods. I'd give anything at least one shot. Even when I don't necessarily enjoy something, I'm enough of a compulsive eater to continue eating it until I acquire some sick masochistic taste for it.
The food I least enjoy eating is probably raw carrot. So I eat a bag of raw carrots per week to try and get over it. I think it's working. My least favorite quality in anyone is closed-mindedness, especially when it comes to food. I find it very stressful and frustrating when someone absolutely refuses to eat something if there's even a tinge of say, mayo, or fish, or whatever food-phobia they have, in it. Even worse are people who refuse to try something they've never eaten before because they don't like the idea of it. I could probably rant about this for days.
What would you like to try but haven't yet?
There are thousands of cuisines I'd like to become more familiar with, but I'm most interested in exploring American regional specialties you can't get outside their borders (like an oyster po' boy from New Orleans, New Haven's apizza, real Texas brisket, deep-fried cheese curds from Wisconsin, Skyline chili, etc). I'm planning to take a cross-country road trip just to sample each state's best eats.
Favorite food person?
Hands down, Kenny Shopsin. I worship this man. Beyond finding him hilarious and refreshingly, well, blunt, I really admire his life philosophy about doing honest hard work that you love and focusing on the relationships you have with your family, friends, and customers. His take on food—I think he once compared putting "wrong" ingredients together to the thrill of "putting your d*ck in the wrong hole," is something I really sympathize with (the first part, at least) and I think few people really do. Most are so slow to warm up to unconventional combinations.
Everyone knows sweet-and-salty is an amazing flavor. What makes putting a sweet jam on a ham sandwich less appealing than a chocolate-covered pretzel? But Kenny is fearless. His whole menu is full of bold mix-and-match; he really doesn't give a crap if it's considered "wrong" to put mac-and-cheese and pancakes together—he makes it anyway, and he makes it so unbelievably delicious that it puts any naysayers to shame.
I also like that he focuses on what I think matters: the taste of the end product. While I'm all about quality ingredients, I think it's completely awesome that he uses Aunt Jemima pancake batter—instead of some fancy from-scratch buttermilk batter from a Corsican farm—to make some of the best pancakes I've ever eaten. Or that he dips flour tortillas in milk to make crepes that impress even French tourists. Sometimes I feel that people who get needlessly uppity and nitpicky about the source and procedure of products and dishes are doing the culinary world a disfavor. Don't knock anything until you've actually tried it.
When did you first realize you were a serious eater?
My family was always big on weird foods (I got to eat the fish eyeballs and meat cartilage when I was a kid) so I think that inspired my adventurous palate. In terms of my compulsive eating, that started sometime in elementary school. I remember having contests during lunch to see who could swallow the most spiral pasta without chewing. I always won. (I think my record stands somewhere at 15 pieces).
I only really started poring over food sites, photos, shows, menus, and so forth in high school, when I developed a brain and some creativity. I would say food has been my only lifelong passion—the only one I know will never fade. If I ever got a tattoo, it would be food-related. Sexy, right? Don't tell my parents.
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions?
They think I'm nuts. They indulge my food-talk for about two minutes before they sort of stop responding and hope I get the hint to shut up and stop sending them food-related links. That's my favorite part about working at Serious Eats: my food-obsessing, food-picking habits are totally accepted here. I love hearing Ed casually talk about things like the appropriate "crispy veneer" on a pancake. Makes me feel like I'm in my element.
Favorite food sites or blogs?
Serious Eats has been my No. 1 for quite a while now [Editor's note: Woooooyeah!], but I used to frequent Epicurious often, especially during slideshow seasons. I think I have over 300 recipes in my recipe box. I also frequented a few blogs, but never became a blog loyalist until Serious Eats won me over. I still look at the New York Times Dining & Wine section when I can though; I think they have good storytelling pieces.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours?
Honestly, I don't trust very many people to tell me where to eat unless they're local and I'm visiting from out of town. In all other instances, I'd ask anyone at Serious Eats (in the office or on the site), or look to Yelp (which has betrayed me in the past—why does Mamoun's have a 4.5 rating?!) and restaurant reviews from credible sources to give me the low-down.
OK. So what's the best recommendation you've ever gotten?
There are way too many to list, but recently, Erin pointed me towards Taim. It is singlehandedly responsible for turning me into a falafel person (the pre-Taim Faye never understood the hype about fried mashed-up chickpeas).
What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
Sometimes I like snacking more than actually eating meals.The number of delicious things in this world is overwhelming, and I love tasting as many things as I can. My ideal meal would be an array of appetizers or app-sized entrees, tapas style. I love samplers. I achieve this in my day-to-day life by picking off of other peoples' plates to sample everything, but I think that habit is wearing some of my friendships thin.
Do you ever cook? What's the best dish you make?
Sometimes I get really inspired to cook, either because I get a bizarre idea that I'm convinced will be epic, or because I read about some dish or technique I want to try. After reading Kenny Shopsin's book Eat Me, I've become obsessed with perfecting the pancake. I don't even like pancakes that much, but I would be satisfied devoting my life to making the best pancakes in the world.
I bought the same batter that Kenny uses, and followed his advice exactly—but it seems his techniques don't work on the pathetic stovetop I've been using. So I improvise, and they turn out pretty well if I do say so myself, but I have yet to achieve "the best pancake ever." I hope to reach this milestone in my life by the end of the summer.
In terms of a personal recipe go-to, Carey once posted my favorite paste made of a medley of tasty things: olive tapenade, goat's cheese, cream cheese, chipotle paste, and black truffle oil. Slather it onto an omelette, or on a panini-pressed buttered piece of sourdough. Flavor explosion. Seriously, just try it.