Remembering Johanna: How I began my journey to pursue a degree in culinary arts

Ocean Beach Pier
Photo credit: Lauren J. Mapp

Johanna Skaife
Photo credit: Lauren J. Mapp
This weekend marks a decade since my friend Johanna Skaife passed away. She was one of my best friends here in San Diego, and her friendship continues to help me to this day.

Every time I step behind the bar to make a cocktail, and oftentimes when I cook, I remember her warm personality and her infectious laugh. As co-workers at Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Co., you could always tell when someone told a good joke in the bar because her laugh would reverberate through the walls of the entire restaurant.

Because of Johanna, I'll always remember the difference between a bay breeze and a sea breeze. While training me as a bartender she said "the sea is saltier than the bay, so a sea breeze is made with grapefruit juice and a bay breeze is made with pineapple."

She was full of helpful quips and idioms, and for some reason, was dead set on training me to become a bartender.

"You have gumption," she would say with a healthy chuckle. "All bartenders need gumption. Don't ever forget it."

In her free time outside of work, she trained me at her house until she felt that I was ready to jump behind the bar. After prodding our manager, and him testing my knowledge of cocktails in return, she was somehow able to convince him that I was ready to pick up bar shifts.

Johanna is also one of the main reasons why I decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in culinary arts.

I have felt a strong connection to food for my entire life. As a small child, I stood on a kitchen chair next to my ista (mother in Kanien'kehá:ka/Mohawk), helping her to bake cakes and cookies. As I got older and gained more household responsibilities, I began to cook for my mother and younger siblings sometimes to help ease the stress from my mom.

Our family spent summers together with our hands in the dirt planting and growing crops, many of which were of indigenous origin. We grew corn, beans and squash in the Haudenosaunee, companion planting mound style. Our property had maple trees that we would tap in the spring to make syrup and Haudenosaunee corn mush.

Many of my fondest memories throughout my life are related to food, especially when I think back to my friendship with Johanna. We would often throw parties together where I would cook for our friends and co-workers.

One day, she told me that I should go back to school as a culinary arts major because she believed in my skills that strongly. That comment set me on my path to becoming a food writer, and I always be thankful for the positive influence that she had on my life.

Me, Johanna Skaife and Nathalie Besson on my 22nd birthday in San Diego.


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