In an election year where it feels like the fate of civilization as we know it hangs in the balance, if you believe the “experts” barfing their opinions in all corners of Internetlandia, it can be hard to remember that there are real people living real lives all around us who don’t just debate or argue about change from their keyboard, but work to affect change with their every breath, word and motion. Such it is with Chef Maria Hesse: Mom, Author, Chef, Lifestyle Designer and Maestra of Perfect Evenings…
“I’m kinda all over the place,” said Maria Hesse as she was slicing, dicing, chopping and assembling our eat-in dinner for the evening. Ya think? I got a whiff of that when I asked her what she thought would be a good way to showcase her talents at our dinner party and she suggested Bibimbap. Huh?
But, we’ll get to that later.
I’ve known Maria for a little while now. You could say I see her…all over the place. From volunteering in kitchens at charity and fundraising events such as Collaboration Kitchen to enjoying a beer or a glass of wine with her at the latest restaurant debut, there was little doubt that I, someday, somehow, would like to learn more about and taste her food. ‘Cause I eat. A lot.
In fact, before the bright idea of hiring her for our dinner party struck, I bought her e-book, The Intentionalist Cooks, to learn more about her style. According to the book, co-authored with friend Shanna Trenholm, Maria is about sustainable, vegan, gluten-free cooking. Okay, I’m down with that.
But, Maria’s nowhere near being that mono-dimensional. After working various roles in the restaurant industry from front of house to kitchen, Mom & Pop sushi joint to casual local restaurants and national chains, Maria eventually graduated from the Art Institute of California with a degree in interior design. She then set off to change the world through a whole different kind of sustainability – architecture, construction and green building. Unfortunately, in the late 2000’s when she graduated, the construction industry was in the tank and the first to get shown the door were the designers – no new buildings to construct meant no need for people to make them look pretty.
All good, though. Maria had already identified that her true gift and passion were working with individual clients to impact their lifestyles. “One day,” Maria relates, “I had this epiphany. I realized… All sustainability starts with food, because it’s the number one thing that we consume. So, if you’re going to influence people to inherently change their lifestyles and health, it starts with food.”
Preach it, Girlfriend!
This prompted Lifestyle Designer and Mom Maria Hesse to embark on a journey to discover some new truths, which inevitably ushered in the era of Author and Chef Maria Hesse. Diving headfirst into the vegan lifestyle for a year, she noticed huge improvements not only in her health, but her son’s. She hadn’t forced him to go vegan, but even with meat still in his diet, the freshness of ingredients and healthier preparations combined with the elimination of processed and prepared foods had a noticeable impact on his health and alertness.
This exploration and sojourn into customized, health considerate cuisine led to her co-authoring her book with a friend and client for whom she had been cooking her new creations, a new career as a personal chef and, eventually, doing dinner parties for her clients.
Today, Maria still does all of the above in addition to having a restaurant marketing gig and doing grant writing for new businesses. Really? Reading it makes me feel like a slug who sits on the couch all day eating potato chips.
“All over the place,” Maria Hesse? Maybe so. But, in the best possible way.
The dinner party gig caught my attention – it was the opportunity I had been looking for, so, I booked one. In doing so, and based on what I knew from her cookbook, I expected something really healthy and hopefully good from Maria. And, I can say we got that, but in a much different form than I imagined. What, you may wonder, had I imagined? Bean sprouts, kale and radishes…
But, noooo. Bibimbap is what she said.
I had never had it and had only barely heard of it. In certain circles, it may be a thing, but I’m definitively not in those circles, or, at least, I wasn’t. So, I had to ask her, “Is this really going to showcase your talents, Maria?”
Her answer, “Yep.”
Cool. Let’s do it, then.
So…Bibimbap. It’s Korean, just like half of Maria and all of her Mom. In fact, one of the coolest tidbits of many that Maria shared during dinner prep was that her grandparents used to grow and supply Asian pears for the last Korean Emperor. But, bee-bopping back to the bibimbap, (gosh, that’s fun to say)…it’s a rice dish with other meat and vegetable ingredients added. In other words, how good the dish is directly depends on how good the ingredients are.
I’m gonna admit it…I had my doubts. This was a dinner party for foodie friends – heck, between us we probably have a combined 100 Michelin stars under our belts…eating stars, not cooking stars. Was this Bibimbap thing gonna be like a glorified K-BBQ session?
Please excuse my ignorance. Not only was this the best food and overall meal I’ve had in awhile, it was home-cooked, meaning no long drive and sobriety checkpoints to worry about. It was also creative, damn tasty and fun…tons of fun! How Maria made it out of there with all ten fingers intact while prepping and cooking an entire five course meal amidst such raucous laughter, animated conversation, copious wine drinking and vigorous sake imbibing, I’ll never know. And that was before the guests arrived…
Then we ate… fresh, Asian inspired, coastal influenced, locally sourced, tastebud popping, oh, so original takes on seared yellowtail, pork toro, the best crab cakes in the universe, homemade kimchi, salmon belly and soy marinated eggs.
And we drank… way more than we should have, with no regrets, crossing international boundaries as we journeyed from Napa to Argentina through Japan to Korea, uniting the world in our cups.
And we laughed… probably too loudly, definitely too often and, even now, still a little more, in the form of a wistful chuckle, savoring the memory of the evening.
And we rinsed, washed and repeated as we got Maria all cleaned up, packed up and on the road so that she could enjoy the rest of her evening while we lounged, sated, and absorbed every last morsel and moment of ours.
Here’s the Rundown on Chef Maria Hesse:
It’s pretty simple, folks. Chef Maria Hesse can make your meals at home, family style, enough to last a week at a time, based on your food preferences, for the ridiculous price of around $10 – $12 per serving, including shopping, food, etc. Isn’t that about the cost of a burger, fries and shake (which all either start off processed and frozen or end up that way) these days?
Or, you can try to get on her busy calendar for what may end up being one of the best multi-course, home cooked meals you may ever share with some good friends and family for an even more unbelievable rate of $50-$60 per person, depending on your menu. I can’t imagine getting this quality of food with such impactful flavors and fresh off the grill succulence in any restaurant, frankly, but, throwing in the convenience and comfort of doing it at home, it’s worth twice the price.
To learn more about Maria Hesse or to hire her, check out her website, MariaHesse.Life. It may be the smartest food decision you’ve made in awhile. Cheers, my friends!