By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer
I can easily churn out the names of authors and books I read growing up, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, all of which nurtured the aspiring writer in me. You don’t wake up one morning and shout “I’m going to be a writer/designer/chef!” without having seen what it is these people do and create. The path to becoming anything begins with opening your eyes and enjoying the works of those already established in their fields. For me, it was reading the books of my favorite authors and then taking the first step to write in my journal the thoughts their works inspired in me. For many chefs, it might very well have been the dishes their mothers or grandmother’s prepared – and that’s a post for another day. For some of Big City Chefs’ private chefs, however, family had little to do with in terms of culinary inspiration. More specifically, in Chef Sasha’s case, it was the dishes that her parents weren’t preparing:
“My cooking career began purely as a survival instinct,” says Private Chef Sasha Perl-Raver of Big City Chefs and co-star of that agency’s Food Network’s series, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills. “It’s not that my parents aren’t good cooks, it’s just that they’re not really cooks, period.”
Chef Sasha admits that while her mother has “one great dish,” a “bangin’ roast chicken and vegetables” which she served every Friday for Shabbat dinner, her mother’s patience for the culinary arts ended there. Her father, on the other hand, “tries his mighty best when it comes to matters of the kitchen, but everything he makes involves either pickle juice or Dijon mustard- usually both.” I cringe when I hear her father’s creative concoctions: “Eggs with pickle juice and mustard; salad dressing with pickle juice and mustard; oatmeal with pickle juice and mustard…Okay, maybe not oatmeal, but just about anything else.” No wonder a young Chef Sasha took charge. “From a young age, I saw that somebody had to save mealtime from pickle juice tyranny and I was that person.”
A tall order for a small child, but Chef Sasha met the challenge with gusto! She had a “bizarre preoccupation with food” from a young age, and even now she’s not entirely sure whether the fixation developed out of necessity or was a gift. “I recently found a writing assignment from the first grade,” says Chef Sasha, recalling a fill-in-the-blank exercise that began: Bring me…
And what did Chef Sasha fill in the blank with? “FOOD!” of course!
As far back as she can remember, Chef Sasha “read cookbooks the way other little kids read comic books.” She grew up on a steady diet of Julia Child and Martin Yan, learning from these master cooks with the same ferocity as other kids watched Jem and She-Ra. At seven she was making pizza from scratch, “from dough to sauce,” and by sixteen she declared to anyone who would listen that “cheffing” was her profession. Here, Chef Sasha pauses and reflects, acknowledging that while many factors influenced her to become a chef, the greatest inspiration of all was the food.
“Food has been my inspiration from the time I could eat,” she says, “and when I realized it was possible to make money from my obsession, I dove in headfirst.” Now, Chef Sasha is a successful Big City Chefs Private Chef who has cooked for clients from Beverly Hills to Malibu to Los Angeles.
While her parents find it ironic that their culinary shortcomings led to a professional chef in the family, Chef Sasha thanks them. “I have to admit though,” she says, “after a decade and a half as a chef, one thing I’ve realized is my dad was onto something: pickle juice, when used in the right ways, can be a stellar secret weapon!