Created: Thursday, 13 March 2014
At home with Chef Bobby Hathaway
As the door opens on the Fullerton home of Chef Bobby Hathaway he greets you with a warm smile and a hug. "There are only two rules about my home, first is that the bathrooms are over there and there's drinks in the fridge, and the second is to make yourself at home." His white picket fence lined yard stands as an island sandwiched in between two apartment buildings across the street from a bike shop and near movie theaters and small restaurants. His wife Mary stands in the background, holding her breath. It's a big day, a cooking lesson and photo session. Their two male boxers were sent over to Bobby's sister's house for a play date with her dog. There was simply too much going on in to have them running around.
I met Bobby and Mary years ago at a wedding, Bobby's dad's wedding. Robert Hathaway Sr. is one of the most remarkable men I've ever met. Stationed in Japan during the Korean war he falls in love with a Japanese woman and has to leave, but strikes deal to re-enlist if he can be stationed in Japan once again. Time apart there were very endearing letters send to each other that Bobby smiles about when he talks about it. "You can just feel the love." The couple adopts their first child in Japan and then comes back home and adopts two more, Bobby being one of them. Robert Sr. goes back to school to become an engineer, then a lawyer, and then retires and gets bored then gets a degree in education. He's the living version of 'Career Barbie.' By the time I met him he was well into his late 70's and widowed, getting married for a second time. Bobby Jr. was at the wedding with his fiancée Mary. We hit it off instantly. They had their wedding at his close friend's Chris's house in San Juan Capistrano. Bobby is on cloud nine the entire day, telling a hysterical stories that I cannot repeat here and just embracing the day.
Bobby went to Cal Poly Pomona and ended up going to the Culinary Institute of American in New York to become a chef. The funny thing about his story is that they will admit you without and guarantee that you'll graduate. It takes all of what he had to earn the title of Chef. He has a passion for the culinary arts that drives him. We kept in touch after his wedding, working on projects together whenever we could. He happened to have owned a pizza restaurant for around 20 years that kept him busy. Last year he sold it and now he's a personal chef. He's starting over, in a way. He has interesting stories about being hired by the very wealthy to do personal parties or cook for a dozen people on a ten day cruise aboard a personal yacht. The people on this cruise are paying more for seven days than my parents paid for their house. "Top shelf food only Bobby" they tell him. He talks about going to the premium markets and hand selecting the produce.
After a recent conversation Bobby mentions he just bought a road bike, and I told him I own one as well. Two days later we meet up for the first of our weekly bike rides. We started off small (18 miles) and by summer we are hoping to be doing a century ride. Along the way we discuss business ideas. Bobby is so enthusiastic, he wants to do 20 new things. The thing is, he actually does them. He has great ideas of his own. One of the ideas was a cooking class where he is put into the role of chef-instructor. A few days later I have 8 people, most of whom he has never met before showing up to his house to get a lesson and a nice meal.
The students trickle in by groups. The first to arrive were a family of four from Brea. I've known them for around 20 years since they used to live across the street from us. Both mom and dad were heavily into the idea of a cooking class, and their oldest child, a high school senior was excited as well. Their young son soon finds the closest computer and checks out until dinner is ready. Bobby's son end up showing him his room and they talk about cool video games and technology type things. A couple with a baby shows up next. They are one of my bridal couples from a couple of years ago. The bride stepped up to help us for a couple of hours at a recent bridal show. It was a last minute deal as one of my coordinators had to back out a few days before the show due to a schedule conflict. Last to arrive was my wife and daughter who were a bit frazzled with the Saturday traffic on the 91 freeway.
The men soon take a seat on a couch and watch the show. On the menu today, Chicken Vietnamese Style with Roasted Garlic and Jasmine rice, along with an Asian Mixed Salad. This is a baked dish with mostly ingredients you can find from a supermarket. Bobby starts off the demonstration by showing everybody how to sharpen a serrated knife. Soon everybody has knives in their hands and whole chickens in front of them. One of their first tasks was to cut through a chicken bone. Everybody does what feels natural which is to cut with the front of the knife applying as much pressure as possible. The problem is that the chicken bone is too thick to be cut like this, even with the premium quality knives. He shows how to use the back of the knife with your other hand the front of the knife to cut through it. My daughter Brooke was a bit worried, she primarily makes cookies in the kitchen, this was her first time cutting through the bone of a raw chicken. But soon she has it and a big smile goes across her face.
Though the house the sounds of Pandora's 'Little Dragon' station is blasted. The lot is also freakishly large, with enough space to put a couple more houses in the backyard. Bobby's son is playing on top of the huge avocado tree in the backyard while Bobby is talking about soy sauce. "Soy Sauce is like whine, there is cheap soy sauce and good ones. You'll find the better ones at the Ranch 99 market." Bobby is very entertaining and I can see by this point that the students are engaged. Knowing my wife of the past 24 years very well I can tell when she's engaged into an activity or when she's simply going along for the ride. "Come here and try this" she said while putting a spoon in what will be the salad dressing. "Isn't that amazing."
Mary is in the background, talking to the guests. The couple that brought their baby with them ends up in Mary's arm and Mary had a great time holding him. The baby had kept pulling on Mary's long blond hair, but Mary just ate it up. Then a few minutes later she was talking to my daughter and the daughter of the family of four. Mary is a 9th grade English teacher. They were chatting about their favorite books and Mary seemed to enjoy that they also had a passion for her profession.
Before long the entrées were in the oven. Bobby kept them engaged with other aspects of preparation I started tearing down my equipment from the earlier shoot. The wine was flowing and it turned into one of those nice saturday afternoon hangout type of parties. People start walking into the backyard and enjoyed this perfect March day. Some of these houses in the area date back to the late 1800s. Instead of garages these homes had carriage houses as in the horse and buggy era.
Finally it was time to eat, the table is set up nicely and Bobby and the gals gather for a group shot. As you would expect from a Culinary Chef the food was fantastic, but it was even better knowing that they participated in the process. The idea behind the class isn't to learn how to make Vietnamese Chicken, but rather how to take common ingredients of food you may have on hand, or some you can easily pick up and take your cooking skills to the next level. It's the process, not the meal that's important. As a photographer there are companies that have these elaborate sets that cost $25,000. The bring in models who are stellar gorgeous and set up another $10,000 worth of lighting in a studio. We can take the seminars and take pictures with studios we don't own, on props we'll never own, and with people who aren't anywhere near normal looking. This isn't education, it's fantasy land. You can do that with food as well, working in high-end kitchens with ingredients you'll never find at your supermarket. Where's the value in that? You can't be a culinary chef in one lesson, but you can learn a lot more than you can from TV or Youtube by being hands on. Best of all you get to taste what is made and see the results of your learning.
Chef Bobby is a Personal Chef who is available for hire for private, corporate and events. His offerings are mind boggling, from the best box lunches you will ever have to catering for black tie events. He has a must see website at www.ChefBobby.com. He is currently working on a project to raise money for a trip to Africa. His church set up a culinary school last year to teach Culinary skills to the Africans, and hopefully help empower them to be able to find work in kitchens. Bobby is seeking donations for the trip on his website. He will also be doing more of these private classes in the future, most likely at community centers. He can also do them in your home for small groups of people. If you have a need for excellent hands on catering that you'll rave about, or want to learn from the Zen Master of the Culinary Arts give Mr. Bobby a call.