leon be youEvery week I write a column called BE YOU for one of the local papers (The Times of Acadiana) – Each week someone different answers the questionnaire – the paper often has to edit them,  so here are all the answers, unedited (the whole truth.) This week – the unique Leon Khameson.

Leon is the Top Culinary Alchemist at Tsunami Sushi. He is one of the most fascinating people I have ever spent time with. A deep thinker with a huge capacity for caring about others and the world in which he exists. Leon is creativity at it’s best – he quietly creates,  and dreams, and as you will see by his answers, forms a view of the world that is both beautiful and unique. I am deeply honored to know him, he makes those around him stop and think.

What was your first job?
My very first job was in high school as a pool/life guard at a local  underground pool next to a government building located on the edge of a trailer park. I barely knew how to swim but was hired on to supervise the kids that went swimming there during the summer. I did a semi-horrible job because the pool capacity limit was 30 people. I tried different methods to implement the policy but failed. I put up a sign about the limit onto a sheet of particleboard but was ignored by everyone. The hoards of kids flooded into the pool. I had no real authority until I kicked a few kids out, one for throwing my chair into the pool; another for bringing his pocket knife into the water and swinging it around. Eventually I earned their trust. I protected this little girl that was being bullied by older girls; she was mistreated and pushed into the pool. Swift punishment was in order and I banned the obnoxious and mean older girls. I grew up a little bit that summer. Yeah, a few of them were brats but they were all good kids at heart. I related to them; I was a latchkey kid, too, and craved attention by acting out so I empathized.

Describe a typical day in your life.
Every day to me is atypical. I cannot plan too far ahead for fear of missed opportunities. When I go into work I always try my best regardless of my mood. I look for inspiration in everything. Some days fall into the mundane where all I do is prep work and machine-like construction of food. However, afterward I look for ways to express my creativity whether it may be writing a letter to someone or strumming my ukulele. I like the diversity in my life, it cannot be too boring and typical. I keep busy by finding new hobbies and interests.

What advice would you give the younger you?
The younger version of myself was timid and fearful of rejection. I would tell him to keep faith and to take bigger leaps and bounds. Self doubt is the biggest barrier to your freedom of happiness. I would also advise him to not think so much into the future and en joy the adventure of the moment.

What event in your life most shaped who you are now?
There are a series of events that have shaped who I am today. Growing up in a poor immigrant family taught me many things like independence, character, humility, emotional maturity, and much more. It was a tumultuous childhood but it just makes me appreciate the moments I have everyday. I appreciate the wonderful friends that I never had before. I appreciate the things I never got to do because Asian families are usually strict. I matured quickly because my parents were always working. I was translating letters and bills for my parents since I was able to comprehend the English language at a young age.

What values do you live by?
I work very hard and I always try my best. When I promise something I mostly come through with it, if not I try to make it up. I like not to be boastful about things, I let my actions speak for myself–words are meaningless without consequence. Every moment is ephemeral and fleeting, so I try to savor everything.

What do you most appreciate?
I appreciate the loving friends and kind strangers in my life. Without their magnanimity I would have given up on this world. I realize that there are good and kind people out there and that they want to help and proliferate our humanity. I also realized that food is love and that people share their love through food. I appreciate all my meals with my friends; it tethers us together.

What is your favorite journey?
A couple years back I interned at a golf/spa hotel in southern Spain. I worked the sushi bar inside their Asian restaurant. It was an incredible journey. I exposed my senses to a whole new different world. It felt surreal. The food, people, culture, and architecture were amazing. I’m a food geek and nearly every single bite of food from the region was incredible. The Spanish cook with so much love and enthusiasm. I became a bit jealous and I really want to live there some day. I spoke not a scrap of Spanish but I felt as though everyone from there were my kindred spirits and communication was not too difficult. Even as a foreigner I felt incredibly welcomed; it was a warm feeling as they coddled me and enthusiastically invited me into their homes, meals, and celebrations. The whole journey was a bit difficult because there were communication barriers, new work environment, culture shock, homesickness, etc… but it was all worth it. I matured—I learned a new language, made new friends and contacts, immersed myself into a new culture, and found love for a foreign place and its people.

Where is your favorite place to be alone?
I’m naturally an introvert so I spend a lot of my time alone. In my bedroom I read, write, brainstorm whilst hanging out with my dog and cat. The room is lit like a perpetual sunset—very calm, soothing, and blissful.

What living figure most inspires you?
My friend, Silvia Bertolazzi, inspires me day by day. She is my best friend….she is everyone’s best friend. I have never met anyone so incredibly positive and radiant in my life. She is radiant regardless of her moods or whatever bogs her down. When I talk to her I am rejuvenated with spirit and vigor. She is my spiritual cup of coffee. I’m blessed to have met her.

What was the best advice you were ever given?
“Follow your bliss.” It’s a quote by Joseph Campbell I try to follow everyday. It’s lead me to follow my heart and cease to doubt myself and follow through with all the adventures life has in store for me. Everyone has the potential to be a hero in their own story. I continue to say yes to life and adventure.

What book would you tell everyone to read?
I absolutely adored “East of Eden” by Steinbeck. It was like the book of Genesis in novel form. Steinbeck wonderfully painted the landscapes with his words. The story, characters, and settings were vivid. It’s been a while since I read it last but it had a profound effect on me I think I will read it again.

What is the best thing about where you live?
I absolutely love Lafayette. I’ve iterated many times before that Louisiana, with all her flaws, is beautiful and soulful. Its people are a treasure. With all the hurricanes, corruption, humidity, and tribulations people are happy and are in constant pursuit of happiness. My friends and their families have welcomed me into their homes and I’ve always felt well treated. It’s southern hospitality at its best.

How do you “let the good times roll” ?
The good times are rolling when I attend intimate dinner parties. I love cooking for and with my friends. A sacred bond is formed when people are gathered and food and booze are mixed in.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to become a scientist…there’s still a little scientist within me. I approach everything with a scientific method. I love testing and experimenting.  I am in constant hunger of knowledge.

What is your motto?
I wish I can say, “Hakuna Matata,” as my motto but that would be untrue. I worry sometimes but I know that everything will work out. I guess my motto is, “Everything will work out. Keep moving.” My life, this path, is perpetuated by things sometimes beyond my control. All I can do is react to these events and hope for the best.

How would you like to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a good person. I am flawed in many ways but I hope to inspire others to try their best to be their best regardless.

What do you say to yourself when you doubt yourself?
During times of self doubt I look into my bathroom mirror and say, “You are BRILLIANT!” Initially I don’t believe it but I have to repeat it a few times to get the confidence. It works out in the end.

What three things are vital to BEing YOU?
Being me would include being the best and helpful friend that I could be, loving food and trying different things, and sharing my love through food.

What do you collect?
I am a collector of experiences—people, places, faces, and scents. My favorite experiences are usually really simple. It’s dinner with a friend or two, good food and good beer/wine, intellectual or spiritual conversation—it’s just magic that a meal like that is symbolic for the revel of living.

What food could you live on for a month?
In Spain, there is a ham, derived from black footed pigs that have been gorging on acorns for most of their lives. At the end of their lives they are salted and cured; dried by the magical mountain air. The beneficial bacteria, as well as the nutty marbling from the acorns, work their magic in transmuting the flesh into something of the gods and heaven. As slivers of this blissful ham is shaved the aroma of smoky oak forests surround and compel you into a state of nirvana. You can imagine putting the sliver of ham into your mouth and the marbled fat immediately melts releasing more complex flavors…Comparing this ham to bacon is like comparing corn-fed beef to Wagyu beef or an M&M to the finest chocolate from a Parisian chocolatier. Jamon Iberico, is my favorite thing on this Earth. I can eat it for eternity. Also if someone were to eat me I’d be well-marbled with divinity.

What would you change about yourself?
I am in constant evolution and change. I’m not the same person as I was six months ago, a year ago, 10 years ago. I let the change happen organically. At the moment I want to play more tennis like I used to and be more active.

What literary, movie or cartoon character do you most identify with?
In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the character of Florentino Areza is who I relate to. He is the underdog as he was first jilted by a lovely girl at a young age and continues through life trying to make up for his branded heart.

Describe yourself in five words.
I would be described as: patient, considerate, introverted, trustful, quietly confident…sorry, that was six.

What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is finding purpose within your life and your continuing struggle to achieve that objective and along the way you have merry adventures.

What is your favorite movie?
One of my favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a weird and whimsical romantic comedy where the protagonist undergoes an invasive brain procedure to rid memories of his previous love and then realizes it was a mistake and tries to save her and the memories of her in his mind. It was one of Jim Carrey’s best performances.

What music defines who you are?
I like  music with a lot of soul and meaning. It is an art– it’s supposed to convey a feeling or message. The music I listen to captures the joie de vivre; it entails both sad and happy feelings. I used to listen to a lot of classical and Bach and Handel captivated me. Today I enjoy the forerunner of pop, Burt Bacharach. He had wonderful melodies but dagger-like lyrics piercing the heart.

What do you most regret?
I regret nothing.

What question do you wish I’d asked?
What’s your favorite food?

What would the answer be?
Anything home-cooked and made with love.