Lessons learned from Dad

by Irina Vishnevskaya, Tastemaker in Residence


Lessons learned from my food-loving, globetrotting Dad

As Facebook fills with father daughter pictures and Hallmark reminds us that there are only a few days left before Fathers day, my family commemorates it being approximately a year since our own brilliant and beloved Dad passed away. There are so many feelings circling around at this time, but I’m feeling one particularly strong one: gratitude. The values that Dad (and Mom) instilled in my brother and I are omnipresent. More than anything, Dad was my main conspirer in traveling and food loving. 

So because words are the way I express myself, here are some of the things I learned from Dad, my main Guru: 

Make travel a priority

My parents immigrated to this country in their early 30s with two kids- both had an entire collection of diplomas and accolades, but in their new country they had to find accept humbling jobs as deli counter ladies and airport security guards. Eventually, they rose the ranks of the American dream and built an impressive middle class lifestyle. My point is: my brother and I don’t come from wealth. Yet even from a young age- we traveled. A lot. By the time I got my drivers license I had stepped foot in every European country. My parents gracefully made important, day to day decisions that made saving for travels a priority. They never treated themselves to luxuries like a Starbucks coffee on a Thursday just because, we rarely went out to eat- only on special occasions, and the house (much to my dismay) was always freezing cold in the winter to save money on heating. Today, I see myself subconsciously making the same decisions: I consider going out for a $5 weekday lunch a luxury reserved for Fridays at most, but I don’t consider a $1,300 plane ticket to Vietnam to be expensive. It’s all about priorities, after all. 

Take the planning seriously 

Dad took travel planning to another level. He would usually start about six months to a year out from the travel date and immerse himself fully and completely in everything related to his destination. He would check out every single book available from the library, watch every movie or TV show and request materials from the Tourist Information Centers. He would make photocopies of what he deemed important and would put together his own version of a travel guide book- completely tailored to his trip. Our favorite was when he would be in the “optimization” part of planning (I kid you not, this was the word he used)- he would draw, zizzag, scribble the plans for every single day, making sure every single second was well optimized. 

Traveling is not child’s play 

Trips with Dad were always intense- we were expected to wake up at 6 AM; “Did you come here to SLEEP? You can sleep at home! I’ve already gone for a walk and had breakfast” he would declare as we were struggling to force our eyes open. He would walk all day and into the night as he guided us from one spot to the next, sharing quite interesting historical information about random buildings that its inhabitants probably do not even know. I remember when I was studying in Lyon, France and my family was planning on coming to visit me- my Mom told me Dad was planning on “relaxing” on this trip. As I found out, this meant that the wakeup call would be 7 AM instead of the usual 6 AM. But guess what, now I’m the same; sleeping reserved strictly for plane, train and bus rides. 

Experience through your stomach 

Dad was a foodie before being a foodie was a thing; my brother and I understood the intricacies of French “smelly” cheese and knew how to hold chop sticks before most kids can cross the street on their own. When we were traveling, our meals were carefully pre-meditated and planned well in advance. And they were always an experience- some of my favorite family memories were around a dinner table somewhere in the world- one memory stands out in particular somewhere on the French riviera where we found ourselves in an all-French, locals only seafood only restaurant. Something about that experience was so genuine, so pure. Wherever Dad went, he loved to experience the food, he would taste it all, there wasn’t a thing that would disgust him or put him off. And I know that many of his favorite travel memories were also while eating; he told me the story (at least ten times) about that small, basement restaurant in Tokyo where he got the meet the owner and his wife. And I listened every time, because I knew firsthand the kind of pleasure, the kind of joy he was talking about. 

Close your eyes when you taste food

We used to tease Dad when he did this, but now I get it, and there is actually science behind it, too. When you’re tasting a new, intricate food, try closing your eyes as you taste it. It’s no secret that when we lose one sense the others become heightened, and as such sometimes the visual effects of the place we’re in, the people we’re with, the look of our food distort our actual perception of the taste of the food itself. Just try closing your eyes for a brief few seconds next time you taste a new food with an interesting texture, you’ll see Dad’s point. 

Dad’s calm but spirited nature and passion is incredibly missed by all of us. I thank him for enriching my life with such a wealth of beautiful memories on the road and around the table, and I know that all of my future adventures will be an ode to him; love you, Dad. And by the way; Happy Fathers Day.