My dream has always been to open a restaurant. When I was little, I pictured the dining room of my imaginary restaurant to be very academic, a little dusty and enchanted, like an Ivy League library or a place where somebody distinguished might wear a "smoking jacket." I was hoping for a backyard with a treehouse, where customers take their food from baskets lifted on a rope and pulley. When I pictured the dishes this dream place would serve, I'm sorry to say there was more style than substance: ideally, the food would look like woodland fairy offerings, studded with tiny robins’ eggs and edible moss and blossoms, and it would appear into and vanish out of thin air, like the feasts at Hogwarts. Plus there would be Pad Thai and cheese pizza and dried mangoes, because those were my favorites. My cooking experiments at the time had a tendency to go very wrong and alarm anyone within smelling (or heaven forbid, tasting) range. But that didn't really bother me. The most important thing I knew was that the food would have to be magic, unlike anything the shocked and amazed customers had ever tasted or even knew how to describe.
In the years since, I've become a much, much better cook and a slightly more realistic adult. But in essentials, my dream hasn’t changed— The house I grew up in sits only eight blocks away from the house where we are currently building my restaurant, Malka. The word “Malka” means “Queen” in Hebrew. It was part of my given Hebrew name Yehudit Malka (Judith the Queen), and it was the name of my favorite and most glorious dog. Malka the dog was high-spirited and mischievous, shiny black fur, huge brown eyes, always sniffing out snacks or fearlessly and resourcefully making snacks out of odd pieces of furniture or socks. We found her at the humane society when I was seven, and she remained my knuckle-headed companion until I left for college. The restaurant is named after her and also after me as a little girl and all the far-reaching, majestic dreams I had then that I hold onto with affection even now.
In 2012, in my early twenties, I opened Carte Blanche. Carte Blanche was a food cart in an Airstream trailer on Hawthorne in Southeast Portland. It was a success.
For five years, we steadily grew in popularity. The cart became so busy that we had lines of customers everyday and a long string of orders that meant a consistent two-hour wait for food from open to close.
Our menus at Carte Blanche changed with the seasons, and they changed with the lessons and ideas and techniques I learned over years of growing as a cook. I never stop learning in the kitchen; I will always feel like a student, which is part of the reason I love this. And there is so much pleasure in making and eating delicious food. But the real reason to keep cooking is people.