Mabel Xu: It’s just a matter of going and trying


Credit: Courtesy of Mabel Xu

Sophomore Mabel Xu found her love for cooking and baking throughout her elementary and middle school years. She indulges in her Chinese culture and enjoys cooking Chinese cuisine in her everyday life. “It defines who I am,” Xu said. “I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s important because it’s a big part of me. It’s part of my personality.”

Caterina Tomassini

For as long as she can recall, sophomore Mabel Xu could always be found expressing her love for food in the kitchen. Cuisine plays such a large role in Xu’s life that she now runs an Instagram account that details her love for food. As she grew, so did her passion for cooking.

Xu’s passion for cooking sparked in early elementary school when she and her mom made carrot cake muffins for her younger brother’s birthday. As she continued to explore her culinary abilities, cooking became not only a hobby but also a stress reliever.

“Cooking calms me down when I’m stressed about school or anything in general because I can focus on measuring the ingredients and making the food,” Xu said. “Then, at the end, I just have good food as well.”

Inspired to cook by her grandmother, Xu grew up learning many of her recipes and techniques through her family. She feels close to her grandmother, who lives in China, through a shared love for their Chinese culture and the cuisine.

“She and I just love food, and our personalities are basically the same,” Xu said. “We become excited over sharing our food and making it for others.”

Cooking aside, Xu believes that her grandmother is more than just a talented chef.

“I respect her because she’s a hard working person and she didn’t go to school, but I would say she’s probably one of the smartest people I know,” Xu said.

Part of Chinese culture, according to Xu, is based on hard work and determination. She believes that although those are important traits to acquire in the kitchen, they are even more valuable in life.

“I think the whole mindset of having to work hard is really important for me because in my family, especially [when] my parents come from families [that] had values of working their [hardest], trying and focusing really hard when [you] have the ability to is essential,” Xu said. “I think that’s really important because without this motivation and drive, you can’t live up to your full potential.”

Xu admits to having lost motivation when a recipe didn’t turn out the way she had planned. However, she always ends up drawn back to the same special room in the house: the kitchen.

“There were times when I would make something and it didn’t go well, and I would think, ‘I’m going to stop’ even though there was more I could do with the recipe,” Xu said.

Throughout the years, she’s learned how to expand her knowledge about different cultural cuisines. Xu attended a culinary camp in 2016 where she practiced basic techniques such as knife skills and basics of cooking including grilling, soup-making, broth-making and poaching.

During the weeklong culinary camp, Xu focused on French and Spanish ingredients such as rabbit and squid ink. Although she enjoyed experimenting, she still prefers to work with Chinese food.

“I prefer to cook Chinese [food] because I have both my parents at home who continue to teach me, and I feel more comfortable with it because I know what’s authentic and what’s not,” Xu said.

Xu often enjoys sharing her creations with friends and family. As exciting as it may seem, it can be a nerve-wracking situation.

“I get nervous when people are trying my food. I usually walk away so that I don’t see their reactions,” Xu said. “I try not to show if I’m disappointed because I can’t expect everyone to like my food.”

Contrary to baking, which is typically based on exact measurements, cooking is creative, and it allows Xu to play with the flavors in the recipe. Each meal’s outcome is different from the last, and some people may not find it as appealing as she does.

“I know that sometimes it’s not because my food tastes bad but because they could be picky,” Xu said.

Even though she can’t please everyone, Xu still enjoys sharing her dishes. She uses her Instagram account, @eatsbymabel, to post her favorite creations. She hopes to grow her Instagram account into her own blog where she would post her own recipes.

In addition to an Instagram account, which currently has almost 200 followers, Xu occasionally sells her food for profit.

“I never intentionally wanted a business, but last year I made [cookies] for my friends, and they told me to sell them,” Xu said. “I posted on Instagram that I was selling them, and I was surprised when a good amount of people wanted to buy them.”

In the end, cooking isn’t about the profit for Xu. It’s about being creative and expressing her love for food and her Chinese culture. She believes anybody can improve with practice.

“Go for it, and don’t be scared of the kitchen,” Xu said. “People say that they can’t cook, but I think everyone can. It’s just a matter of going and trying. Even if you don’t follow the recipe, you could create something better.”