“You might not be as Hungarian as you think you are.” These are the words that started the journey of exploring not only my cultural identity, but also the effects that genetic testing has on my ability to make more informed decisions about my health. One 23andMe test and a bespoke pop-up dinner later, I might have discovered I have a gluten intolerance. I say might because, simply put, the thought of removing gluten from my diet saddens me tremendously. I don’t picture Oprah professing her love for bread, outstretching her arms as far as they can go, for one of the Udi’s varieties. I’d like to think Oprah is talking about rustic loaves of sourdough, the kind that has a starter story dating back several generations of artisan bread makers. I digress.
So I’m at home, spitting into a 23andMe home-based saliva collection kit, and I’m thinking this test will answer so many unanswered questions regarding my health and ancestry. What is my cultural identity? What health concerns do I have that can be addressed behaviorally? Am I related to Attila the Hun? If so, do I have an undiscovered talent for horseback riding and archery? And, more importantly, what does the food taste like from the regions I’ll soon claim? I knew I wasn’t 100 percent Hungarian, but considering my mom immigrated to the United States from Hungary I thought at least 50, right?! In about six weeks, all these questions would be pondered over a 10-course pop-up dinner, curated by Adia, a revolving pop-up dining experience by the insanely talented Karlo Evaristo, Jared Ventura, Brad Fry and Ian Whitney.
I thought: How cool would it be if after receiving my 23andMe results, I gave them to Adia to curate a bespoke pop-up dining experience? Each course would highlight or be inspired by the native cuisine of the regions that my DNA represented. Additionally, if anything popped up on the health component of the testing, we’d incorporate any newly discovered dietary restrictions.
The results were in, and the jig was up. Spoiler alert, not that Hungarian — about 17.7 percent to be exact. Turns out the largest representation from the gene pool is German, showing up at 41.7 percent. Another surprise was that I’m 22.5 percent Irish, even though I was told by family members that we were Scottish — I mean, we also have a family kilt that was supposed to be from Scotland! I felt I had even less of a grasp of my cultural identity after this test. On top of it all, I have one of the two genetic variants that were tested in the HLA-DQB1 gene, meaning, I have a slightly increased risk of developing celiac disease. What?! No bread?! My genetics also make me unlikely to detect specific bitter tastes and to have a preference for salty versus sweet. I’m also not really supposed to like cilantro, but considering the number of tacos I eat living in Southern California, my lifestyle was able to offset that result. Hopefully the same can be said for gluten? A scheduled follow-up with my doctor will confirm.
Not defeated, but excited to take a deep dive, I gave my results to Adia, and I couldn’t wait to see what the menu would look like — talk about putting myself out there, on a plate to be exact. Not only was I excited to explore these regions through cuisine, but the opportunity to explore self-identity in such a culinarily creative way meant that this would be one of the most It didn’t take long for me to connect with what was happening on the plate, and at that moment, I had never felt more proud of my identity, not as Hungarian, Scottish or German, but as an American. It’s more transparent now than it had been in other times of self-discovery that everything I was looking for was right in front of me. My identity and connection to my culture is as unique as my 23 pairs of chromosomes. All of this made me, me — even without bread on the menu.
The first course, sundried tomato goulash with crudité and rosemary soil, was the most interesting rendition of goulash that I had ever tasted — the familiar flavors would have made grandma proud. It was easy to spot the geographic origin of some courses, like the scallop with eggplant schnitzel and citrus soy beurre blanc. Other courses felt ambiguous, like the corn cremeux, featuring foie gras gel, masa tuile and blackberry jam, while others quietly left me speechless, like the squid ink chip with burrata tomato gel and maple sherry.
It didn’t take long for me to connect with what was happening on the plate, and at that moment, I had never felt more proud of my identity, not as Hungarian, Scottish or German, but as an American. It’s more transparent now than it had been in other times of self-discovery that everything I was looking for was right in front of me. My identity and connection to my culture is as unique as my 23 pairs of chromosomes. All of this made me, me — even without bread on the menu.
Menu by Adia
sundried tomato goulash, crudité, rosemary soil
oyster with passion fruit beurre blanc, cucumber mignonette + soubise, ipa vinaigrette, asian pear
sunchoke shell, gooseberry, marinated tomato, basil squid ink chip, burrata tomato gel, maple sherry
corn cremeux, foie gras gel, masa tuile, blackberry jam
uni hashbrown, coconut foam, finger lime, onion blossom
melon spruce gazpacho, charred cara cara, stone fruit, compressed melon
scallop, eggplant schnitzel, citrus soy beurre blanc
beef rib, shiitake gnocchi, shallot agrodolce, demi-glace