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Some chefs receive classical training from a culinary program while others learn exclusively on the job in kitchens. Some chefs cook food that reflects their training, while others cook food that reflects their upbringing. For those chefs who’ve received classical training from school or in another chef’s kitchen or both, many have embraced culinary traditions different than those they grew up with. Other chefs who followed this path, later rediscovered their roots, and blended their training with their roots to modernize or elevate traditional cuisine with more technique. Still other chefs have become completely enamored with the culture and food of other countries, and cook food that reflects their admiration rather than what they ate growing up. For these chefs authenticity isn’t a matter of ethnicity. Rather authenticity is a matter of passion and respect.
Akasha Richmond, born in Miami, Florida grew up in Hollywood, Florida cooking in her mother’s kitchen with her mother and grandmothers. One grandmother was from Russia and cooked old world Eastern European food. The other was born and raised in Iowa and, according to Akasha, baked pies and cooked “very American” food. Akasha loved to cook but growing up never considered becoming a chef. Rather Akasha moved to Southern California to pursue a fine arts degree at San Diego State. When she got here, she became interested in yoga and, in general, Indian culture. She loved everything about Indian culture including the yoga, food, meditation, clothes, dance, art and jewelry. She moved to Los Angeles to further her yoga studies. When she started studying yoga, she also started working in a vegetarian Indian restaurant called “The Golden Temple” owned by the yoga Ashram where she lived. She worked in the restaurant for fun in the kitchen. She didn’t work in the front of the house. Akasha hated working in the front of the house. Akasha’s first and prior restaurant job busing tables as a fourteen year old turned her against the front of house. She hated that job.
When Akasha was twenty-one, she travelled through Northern India. She went to temples, climbed the Himalayas, and dipped in holy water. She had fun. Though she also got sick, and that wasn’t fun. Akasha originally learned how to cook Indian food with people in their homes in the Punjab region of India. She has been studying Indian cuisine ever since, refining it, and learning more. Everyone who lived there cooked. She was a vegetarian at that time so she cooked vegetarian food. When Akasha returned to California, she went back to “The Golden Temple.” She loved cooking and by this time figured she wouldn’t make a living as a fine artist. So instead she decided to become a cook instead. She though wasn’t motivated by money. Instead Akasha was motivated by passion. Cooking was always all about passion for her.
Every day Michael Jackson use to eat at The Golden Temple. He was a vegetarian back then too. So Akasha got to know Michael due to his daily visits to the restaurant. There was another chef who worked at the restaurant who went to work for Michael. Akasha helped this chef cater all the parties at Michael’s house. Eventually this other chef stopped working for Michael in order to concentrate on his bakery, Mani’s Bakery. So Akasha took over the other chef’s responsibilities and became Jackson’s personal chef. Akasha subsequently worked on and off for Michael for ten years, and then full time for four years. During any year she travelled with him for four months then did parties and other events at his ranch in Neverland Valley. Whether or not she cooked for him daily depended upon where exactly on the planet they were
Since Akasha travelled with Michael on a lot of his tours, including Jackson’s Back and History Tours, Akasha literally travelled with Michael all around the world to a total of thirty four countries including japan (Tokyo three times), Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. While touring, she had time to explore and wherever she was the first thing she did in the morning was go to the markets. No one else got up early like she did. So she always was up early and off to the market at seven in the morning. Michael didn’t eat breakfast until noon or one o’clock. So she had a lot of time every morning to explore. On tour there are three shows a week for four months. So Akasha went to a number of shows. However unlike the guy who did the clothing and had to be back stage, she didn’t have to go to shows since Michael didn’t eat until he got back to the hotel. So on concert nights that she didn’t go to the shows, she’d go out for dinner to restaurants all over the world. Depending where they were, she also interacted with street vendors. Though she didn’t eat on the street in India. She did that the first time she went and got really sick. But if she was someplace like Germany, Italy or France she’d eat on the street
Where she cooked for Michael while touring depended on the hotel they were staying in and whether or not she had kitchen access. Some hotels provided access to a room service kitchen she’d cook out of for Jackson’s meals. In other hotels, Michael would have a big suite with a kitchen and she’d use that kitchen. Other times, she’d cook right in the middle of the hotel’s kitchen where they’d always give her one assistant. Some of these hotel kitchens were amazing and really clean while others were pretty disgusting. She remembered once in Moscow they gave her a table and it was covered in grease so she had to clean everything. In these hotel kitchens she also got to work with a lot of different chefs. Additionally Akasha had a traveling pantry and brought certain items with her she knew she couldn’t get traveling in many of the countries where Jackson toured. So she brought things that Michael really liked like dry masa, and a tortilla press since Michael loved Mexican food. Thus if Michael wanted enchiladas, she’d make fresh tortillas wherever they were.
After all of these world travels with Michael Jackson, in 2008 when Akasha opened up her namesake restaurant Akasha in Culver City, she decided to do a menu with every day foods like burgers, wings and ribs infused with more worldly flavors that utilized local and sustainable ingredients with strict quality guidelines for sourcing what ingredients they used including produce from farmer markets, good eggs and good chicken like Mary’s chicken. The restaurant also gave Akasha a place to store many of her cook books including many of her books on Indian cuisine. Like with her travels, cook and food books gave and continue to give Akasha a way to explore and research the culinary world especially the vast world of Indian cuisine.
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