Photos by Melissa Rachel Black
ON THE MENU
Last week, I sat down to interview chef Tony Yuan and graphic designer Ben Azarraga over dinner in Tony’s West Hollywood apartment for The EAT Team’s very first EAT Meet! Los Angeles is well-known as a melting pot of cultures, as well as a hotspot for vegan/organic lifestyles, so it was very fitting that we chowed down on the tastiest (and admittedly, the only) Vegan Japanese Jambalaya I ever had. Even better than the food and art was the company. Both Ben and Tony are creative to the core, and their passion and energy gave me a huge boost of positivity and inspiration.
Without further ado, here’s the interview with Tony & Ben.
What is your dream work/life scenario?
Ben: Owning my own design firm. I like to boss people around. I think I see potential in everybody’s work and I’m able to help people develop that. While I was in school a lot of the students would ask me for help, and I get inspiration from seeing what people do.
Are you living an awesome life? [Nice question, tony!]
I’m living the life I wanted.
Originally when I started school, I was gonna be an engineering major because my parents told me I had to make a lot of money. All throughout highschool I was good at art, but I thought it wasn’t gonna make any money at all. It was a big thing with my parents, they were against it initially because of the money but they finally started to support me.
All I wanted was to be able to make money from art, and I have that now. Especially with my latest job.. every time I go to work, i feel like.. i like it.
That is rare and awesome indeed. How did you get your job that you love?
Ben: My last job wasn’t as professional as I would have liked, and one day I realized I needed to find a place I was happy to go into. I know from experience you never feel “ready” to go for your dreams, but I just applied to all these places and got a few interviews with great companies. I feel like I have a lot to say now at my new job in the designs and we trust each other and they’re confident in what I do.
What’s the first thing you drew?
Ben: I specifically remember–it was a superhero. It was in second grade, and my sister was really mean to me back then, and one day I was crying because I was so upset, and I drew a superhero because I thought I could make it come to life. I remember thinking, “One day I’m going to be an artist.” His name was Mighty Max and he had triangle eyes.
Tony: I used to draw superheroes too!
Do you like to cook and what about it do you like?
Ben: Yeah, just the satisfaction of feeding somebody.
You do graphic design, what else do you like?
Ben: I like just regular pen and pencil, just because I have more control over it versus painting. I tried everything. I like stuff that tells a story.
What food did you grow up with?
Ben: My mom cooked great phillipino food, always two meat dishes and a side dish and rice. In high school I was obsessed with eggs. My sister and I would always have eggs when we got home and a year later when we went to our physicals, we both had really high cholesterol! After that we started cooking different things.
Tony: My grandma cooked a lot of Chinese food. Living in America is a melting pot though so I had a lot of different stuff.
What is your food guilty pleasure? It would probably be McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I think its because its so soft.
They have a saying “Never trust a skinny chef” but I did get chubbier after Cooking school [le cordon bleu] ’cause I tried everything and ate late. I don’t get inspired when I’m cooking for myself.
What inspired you to cook?
Tony: I would say it was a gradual thing, I started to cook for my mom at home. It started off really slow, like adding my own seasonings to simple spaghetti sauce. Breakfast was a great way to start because eggs aren’t premade, you actually alter it yourself. I really like making food for other people, I don’t like to cook for myself.
OH! I have a great story! I was late for one of my first jobs, and to make it up to my boss I made homemade truffles, and the reaction I got, “WOW! you did that?!” really fueled my desire. I loved that feeling and still do.
How do you guys know eachother?
Myspace… like six years ago.
Do you like cooking desserts more or main courses?
Tony: I’ve been kinda going back and forth with that, cause with cooking you can always add something if it doesn’t taste right, but with baking, if its not done right at the beginning, its ruined. Cooking is like a different kind of art. From baking a cupcake to a jumbalaya, its just totally different. I like baking because I like giving baked goods as gifts, but cooking is great because it brings people together, like parties or families.
How do you come up with new recipes?
Tony: I browse recipes for inspiration on the internet, check out the flavor profile and adapt it to fit my likes.
Why is kabocha in tonight’s Creole food?
Tony: LA is a melting pot of cultures and flavors and I like to do fusion foods, I like to experiment. I don’t like to make the same foods over and over.
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