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Memories of Fragrant Cups

Chef Vinita JacintoApril 6th, 2009 by Chef Vinita Jacinto

Since graduating from the Institute of Hotel Management, Culinary Arts & Applied Nutrition in Mumbai, India 27 years ago, I have nourished my life-long passion for food by serving as a culinary educator. I am currently a Chef Instructor of Principles of Contemporary Cuisine at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco where I have been a member of the faculty since 2005. While teaching hundreds of students how to develop healthy, delicious foods over the years, I have inevitably imparted upon them the tremendous cultural and culinary values of tea, which I hold so dear.

Tea was a major part of my upbringing in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. People were immediately offered tea when they visited homes of family and friends. It was the “social lubricant” around which issues of friends, family, and business were discussed. At my home, we drank black tea, cooked with spices, and served with milk and sugar. For special guests, our teapot sat on a tea tray under a delicately embroidered tea-cozy.

As a young girl, I was always enamored by the different varieties of tea that lined the shelves of our kitchen: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri teas. Each tea leaf required different brewing times, more or less milk and sugar. One of my fondest memories was going with my mom to a tea house where one could create personal blends. The smell of the tea, the wooden crates where the massive jars were stored – those details were so vivid, so magical, then and now.

I still have moments where I am swept into nostalgia while brewing a cup of Assam in the morning. I think of the conversations and the smell of monsoon rain and the silver tray that was kept at the back of our cupboard and I am transported. But I also spend time thinking of alternative uses for tea, using it in baked goods and savory dishes. In the future, I’ll use this space to share recipes that I develop, which use tea as a central ingredient. And I will inevitably ponder over future culinary experiments and detail the experiences of my students in carrying them out in the classroom.

In the spirit of the New Year and the desire we each feel at this time to focus on our health, I can’t help but suggest a very simple recipe involving the darling of many health enthusiasts, green tea. Try this very simple recipe one morning in the near future. Brew a strong cup of any green tea. Flavor it with a touch of blue agave nectar and add a touch of soy or regular milk. Pour this into your favorite granola or oatmeal and enjoy!

Until next time, keep making memories over warm cups.

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