"I find nothing more inspiring than someone with a dream."
This week's Meet & Eat subject is no stranger to Serious Eaters. You've enjoyed her videos of some of New York's most interesting purveyors and producers, including Liddabit Sweets, Kumquat Cupcakery, and MilkMade. Now it's our turn to get to know Liza—this time, without the video camera.
Name: Liza de Guia
Occupation: Documentarian, Founder of Food. Curated.
Why is it important to you to share stories about food? Storytelling is my passion. And it's my passion because it puts me in touch with interesting and fascinating people. I find nothing more inspiring than someone with a dream—a person who's putting it all out there because they believe in something special. These are the people I am drawn to.
I find that the food world has many people like this. People who fly under the radar, who devote 15+ hour days to creating something that makes them happy—be it growing a crop of stone cherries or creating a homemade "Snickers bar to end all Snickers bars." They want others to enjoy what they put their heart into. I love that. And I use my craft to support it. Visually capturing the behind-the-scenes is important because I can help get them noticed. I can put them on the map a little more and play a part in their discovery—and that makes me feel good. It's fulfilling!
How do you find your subjects, and what are you looking to learn from them? I'm driven mostly by curiosity. There's so much I'd like to learn about the food world; a lot of the stories you see are just things that I wanted to learn for myself. Overall, I look for people who want to educate. In my stories, I try to showcase their tips and techniques, ideas and discoveries so people watching at home can learn something new.
What has been the most interesting or unique story you've told so far? The one about The Lone Acre. I'm all about finding compelling characters, and this story just nailed that happy balance between totally crazy and totally interesting and relevant. It's about this young, philosophical farmer named Dan Machin who runs a one man organic farming operation out in Long Island called The Lone Acre: 1 dude. 1 acre. 1000 varieties.
His personality just jumps off the screen, and his farming method can only be described as organized chaos. What I love about his story is his passion for growing uncommon varieties of food. He loves growing things that people aren't normally exposed to; testing new ideas for crops in the New York area. He grows food as an act of discovery for himself and for his customers, and in the story I truly believe I captured that childlike enjoyment of good food.
What are some of your earliest food memories from childhood and how did you develop such a passion for food? My mom and dad both migrated to the United States from the Philippines in the '70s, and my mom literally didn't learn how to cook until she set foot on US soil. (My dad always likes to tell stories of how my mom would cry tears over burning rice those first few months. I mean, it's pretty hard to burn rice, right?) But we had a family friend move in with us one summer, who happened to be a well known chef in Switzerland, and in a short period of time he taught my dad the basics to playing in the kitchen. This completely captured my dad's imagination, and that was the summer our kitchen was officially transformed into more of a laboratory for food discovery.
My dad became a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. My sister, brother and I became my dad's little sous-chefs, helping him test recipes, perfect cooking methods, and play with food in a way that brought our family closer. To this day, I can name at least a few dozen people who will tell you that the greatest meals in their lives have been at the deGuia household. I am one of those people.
What's coming up this year for Food. Curated.? This year I'm planning for many many more inspiring stories about food passion. You'll see me on more farms, on more boats and in more kitchens, that's about it!
You're a big Twitter user. How does Twitter play into your site and your work? Twitter is great It's for people like me who like to meet people and be social. I use it to make new friends, share ideas, find out what's going on in my area and around the world.
If you could put together a three course meal with dishes from three different NYC restaurants, what would you include? I go for affordable food with really good flavor. I also cook mostly seafood at home, so when I go out, I'm usually on the lookout for meat. And I'm not talking lean meat. So for me, the perfect meal would be: Sripraphai's Crispy Fried Watercress Salad—it's a crunchy party in your mouth; Fatty Crab's Short Rib Rendang braised with kaffir lime, coconut, chili—lick your lips deliciousness to the third degree; Ippudo's Shiromaru Hakata Classic Ramen Soup with slices of fatty Berkshire pork—possibly the most comforting and satisfying meal I can think of. I really couldn't do better than that in a sitting.
What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? My favorite hangouts include: 5 Leaves (Greenpoint), Mesa Coyoacan (Williamsburg), Dumont (Williamsburg), Chelsea Market for Lobster Place sushi & chowder, Union Square Farmer's Market, Motorino, Amarin Cafe, River Barrel (Greenpoint, only for burgers), & Num Pang Sandwich Shop.
What New York foods do you crave the most often? Slices of cheese pizza from John's on Bleecker, Katz's pastrami sandwiches, Cafe Margon's pressed cubanos, anything from Num Pang sandwich shop, street tacos, soup dumplings and pork buns in Chinatown, falafels, and bagels and donuts from Peter Pan's Donuts in Greenpoint.
What is in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about? I do have a bag of frozen tater tots in my freezer. Oh, and I am disgustingly addicted to Cheetos. It's to my great disadvantage that they still produce those magical little cheese fingers.