Small Wonders: Food for thought

July 31, 2010

Third in an occasional series

When Art Chudabala was a boy, his father took him on weekly fishing ventures off the Southern California coast. On one of these excursions his father caught a huge mackerel and hauled it on deck.

His father immediately filleted it and took a bite of the raw, still-warm flesh.

"There was blood running down his cheeks," he told me. "That was hardcore."

Art, a Burbank resident, recalled this story as we left the fishmonger's stall at the farmer's market and perused the other vendors looking for his next meal's muse.


"My pops is my inspiration," Art told me.

Though his father died five years ago, Art channels him whenever he's in the kitchen.

"He was the best cook in the family. My mom, God bless her, is good. But my dad, he took it somewhere else. He was a very Zen, patient guy in life. Same with cooking. He wouldn't do a thing without prepping. I got that from him. It's the whole process."

Art's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand in the late 1960s seeking the opportunities this country had to offer. They established a little takeout restaurant in North Hollywood that Art would work at in the summer. They'd also cater outdoor festivals and open-air markets.

"I was out there at 11 years old selling won-tons and egg rolls and stuff like that."

It's a business his family still runs. Art seriously considered culinary school before he went into show business.

His film and TV credits as an actor and editor are impressive. But, of Art's talents, cooking is perhaps his most natural and effortless.

"Cooking is something I've always done well but never really focused on. I was the guy that everyone wanted to be roommates with because we could have a piece of bologna, a can of mushroom soup and beer, and I'd cook up something good."

Though he's a skilled artisan when taking on someone else's character or cutting scenes to enhance someone else's artistic expression, in the kitchen, something else is allowed to take over— something true, sincere and gracious: Art. The craft and the man, pure and simple.

And it has him reevaluating life, looking at the things we've all taken for granted.

"For me food was always a passion. When I get home and get to cook, it's a way for me to go Zen, a way for me to exhale."

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