My Father. I don't think he conscientiously meant to, though, because he doesn't seem to want me to work in a kitchen.
When I was 6 years old, I used to beg my father to let me play hooky from school and let me go to work with him. He worked at a typical suburban Chinese restaurant in Scarborough, NY. At Grand Central Station, he'd feed me a Mounds bar which made me puke on the train ride to work. At the restaurant, I spent all morning shelling shrimp, ate something for lunch, napped, and then pull the little strings off the snow peas in the afternoon. I'd wash rice for the evening service, sat in the corner while my father banged out the orders during service, tried to help with breaking down then we'd go home. The owner/manager of the restaurant would hand me a twenty which I forked right over to my dad.
At home, on his one day off, my dad would pick us home from school. I always liked this day because he always fixed a simple but really good snack. It was best in the fall and winter when he'd steam/boil blue crabs, baby taro, chestnuts, sheets of Ho Fun. For the taro and ho fun, my dad would set out tiny dishes of roasted salt, sugar, soy sauce, and oyster sauce for us to dip into. In this way, he taught me that food in it's simplest form was truly a gift to be savored. I especially liked to play hooky on my dad's day off. With my little hand in his, we'd walk all over Chinatown. My favortie place was the bookstore. I'd pick up a cookbook with pretty pictures and asked my dad to read to me. The best part was that he would, too. Then we'd head to a coffee shop where my father and I would have our little afternoon tea. He even taught me tea etiquette. Imagine a little girl sipping her tea like a lady in a dinky coffee shop filled with old men smoking.
My dad was great. He knew I was always in the kitchen at home. My mother would constantly complain that I was splashing water everywhere, that I'd burn down the building beacuse I was always tipping the wok so that I could see what was going on in it. My dad put an end to that right away. He built me a stool so that I could reach the sink and wouldn't have to tiptoe at the stove. Mom didn't think that helped her at all.
At some point, my father decided to teach me me things. My first serious assignment was learning how to poach fish. I must have been about 12 years old. It became my responsibility to pick out the freshest fish at the fish market and cook it for the evening meal. You have to understand that this fish was very important to my family because fish is an integral part of the family diet. In spite of this, my father never yelled at me when I made mistakes. He'd give very constructive critcism and encouraged me to do better next week. I think I got it consistently right after the 5th or 6th time.
I haven't realized just how large a role my father played in shaping my life until just now when I started typing out this post. There are so many more stories. But I think this is quite long enough. Besides, I'm getting a little teary-eyed. This year, for Father's Day, I think we'll try to remember the other stories. Thanks, Svadhistana, for starting this thread.