Souvenir from Asia is now a family tradition
Words and photos by Victoria Milko (Originally published in 2015)
An unlikely family tradition that would continue for generations began when Robert Clime was drafted during the Vietnam War—and it all started with a souvenir.
Deciding that he would enlist in the Navy rather than be drafted into the Army, Clime found himself at sea on the U.S.S. Enterprise during the war. While on a tour in Southeast Asia, he was granted shore leave, leading to numerous adventures in exotic ports of call. The markets in Asian cities were a major draw, and Clime found himself going stall to stall looking for gifts to bring back for loved ones at home.
“There were these big Philippine mahogany bowls, carved from a single piece of wood,” he says. “I decided to bring some home with me.” Little did he realize at that moment that a family tradition was launched that would carry on for generations.
After completing duty in Vietnam, Robert Clime stayed in the Navy. And as is often the case with military life, his family relocated from base to base depending on his orders. As they moved, the Climes would host parties and gatherings, inviting their neighbors over to make new friends and build a new community. When it came to picking out what dishes to bring to the communal table, the Climes had help from a classic source—a Julia Child cookbook. With each passing party, the recipes the Climes attempted became increasingly complex.
“I remember the kitchen being an absolute mess after dinners,” laughs son Christopher. “Those dinner parties got competitive, in a friendly way, pretty quick.”
With their parents spending more and more time testing recipes and hosting guests, the Climes’ children, Christopher and Scott, began to invite themselves into the kitchen, often asking to help prepare the dishes of the evening.
But the boys didn’t start their kitchen careers baking soufflés; they started with something a bit more simple: making a Caesar salad, using the bowl their father had brought back from his time overseas.
While the history of the Caesar salad is dicey at best, its creation is attributed to Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants across North America. Legend has it that he invented the “Caesar” salad one night when forced to make do with just a few ingredients after a busy holiday night had emptied the restaurant pantry. Making do with what he had, Cardini mixed a salad tableside, ultimately creating what would come to be known as the Caesar salad; a recipe that calls for romaine lettuce, croutons, lemon, pepper, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, egg and black pepper. This classic salad lives on today across the world with endless variations.
Robert Clime believes that the key to a good Caesar is all in the bowl. “It made sense to use a big one,” he says. But why choose Caesar salad? His answer is simple: “It’s a salad that goes well with steak. Everybody loves a good steak.”
With his father often being out to sea on deployment, Christopher began to take a larger role in the kitchen. “My dad was gone six months out of the year. Being in the kitchen with my mom seemed like the best way to spend time with her.”
Working with the family in their household kitchen was the start of Christopher’s culinary career. “I really knew I wanted to be a chef when I was about 15,” said Christopher. “When I wasn’t playing sports I would be working in restaurants, learning the ins and outs of kitchens.”
After attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, he went to South Carolina, working at the prestigious five-star Woodlands resort. Next came stints at a string of high-rated restaurants, ultimately working his way up to chef de cuisine at Passion Food Hospitality and now executive chef at PassionFish in Reston. Christopher is joined at PassionFish by his brother Scott, who is the wine and beverage director of Passion Food Hospitality, a group with several prominent DC area restaurants and bars. Caesar salad maintains a secure spot on their menu wherever they go.
As the years go by Christopher and Scott, having since being gifted their own wooden bowls, continue to bring their bowls with them to family gatherings, making a Caesar salad at almost every party they attend. While some of the bowls get more use than others (“You’ll notice mine doesn’t have many scratches in it,” jokes Scott), there remains no clear answer as to who makes the best salad. One thing is certain: The Clime family takes tradition very seriously … and hospitality even more so.
Victoria Milko is a multimedia journalist and writer based in Yangon, Myanmar. She is also currently the Multimedia Editor for Frontier Myanmar.