Melissa Lee: Cook A Book

By Melissa Lee

Life at My Family Table

When I was little, my dad hired a lady from the countryside to live in our house and cook for us. Her name is Mrs. Sun. She worked for us until I was in high school. For many years, I ate traditional Taiwanse food at my family table, such as Taiwanese pickled daikon omelettes or pork belly braised with rock sugar and soy sauce. Unlike Sichuan food, which is famous for being numbingly spicy, Taiwanese food is sweet and savory. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911), signature Taiwanese street food dishes, such as minced pork on rice and Taiwanese burgers (刈包 gua bao), came to Taiwan from Fujian in China. 


I enjoy peasant food and street food. A huge influx of mainlanders, fleeing the communists at the end of China’s civil war in the 1940s, offered us an array of street food dishes from the different states in China. Dan dan noodles from Sichuan are a good example. TheTaiwanese version of dan dan noodles are a bit sweeter than the Sichuan version. Taiwanese cuisine also bears the marks of the Hakka people—an ethnic Han Chinese subgroup with ancestral roots in the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Southern China that began settling on the island around the 17th century. My favorite Hakka dish is Meigan cai cooked with pork.    


I also grew up eating Japanese comfort food. The Japanese government colonized Taiwan for five decades, starting in the late 1800s. They brought bright, umami pickled vegetables, sweet-steamed mochi covered in sesame, and seafood dishes with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. I grew up eating bento boxes for lunch and Japanese curry for dinner. 


Food and wine have always been two of my passions. I began my young professional life as a journalist. I started a popular blog and then wrote a travel column for LIBERTY TIMES, which has the highest circulation among periodicals in Taiwan. My column included a section on local food specialties, and I enjoyed interviewing people who work in the food industry, as well as discovering the history behind local food specialties around the world. I also contributed articles with recipes—specifically baking with children—for the most popular online periodical website among female readers in Taiwan. Those articles also proved to be extremely popular. Since I enjoyed cooking and writing about food so much, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I try to work in a commercial kitchen, and see how well I can do there?”


I left my career as a journalist to enter the world of professional cooking, graduating with honors from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I then worked at Flour Bakery, a well-known, high-end Boston-area bakery.


My Favorite Cookbook: Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Hungry for More


My favorite cookbook is Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Hungry for More. I love this cookbook because I teach recreation cooking classes, and Chrissy’s recipes are wonderful for home-cooks. Many of them require one pot and a few steps. The ingredients are easy to find, the end products are delicious and visually pleasant, and there are many healthy options. I love how she blends her Thai background with classic western dishes, such as pad thai carbonara. Her recipes align with my own cooking philosophy. Since I grew up in South East Asia, I always have Asian condiments in my pantry and fridge. One time, I had some leftover of gochujang (red chili paste) from teaching a Korean cooking workshop, and I used it to make my Italian meatballs the next day. They were the best meatballs I have ever made ever!


3 must-try recipes from this cookbook

Pad Thai carbonara

Roasted carrots and avocado salad with lime dressing

Everything bagel cream cheese breakfast bake


5 fun facts about me that other people may not know.


  1. My favorite lip color is Amazing Grace from Charlotte Tilbury.
  2. After I started to work-out on a regular basis, I realized “lulu lemon” cannot be purchased at Whole Foods or Star Markets. 
  3. I have bad blood circulation. My hands and feets are usually cold during the winter. People said cold hands and cold fat are essential for making a flaky pie dough. I guess I am on the right career track since my hands are naturally cold.
  4. Japanese snacks, such as Kit Kats or Pockys are my weaknesses. I have tasted more than ten kinds of Kit Kats. You can find seasonal flavored Kit Kats in H-mart. Everytime I see a new flavor, I can’t help but bring one bag home.
  5. When I was in college, I was on a popular TV show called Guess. Guess was a Taiwanese television show that was hosted by Jacky Wu and others. Each show usually consisted of 2 segments: “The truth cannot be faked” (真的假不了), and “Do not judge a book by its cover” (人不可貌相). I was in the second segment, “Do not judge a book by its cover.” There was a mini-contest, with five people vying for a title:  “Prettiest schoolgirl.” Celebrities were invited to guess which one of them will be the winner. I didn’t win. 


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