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Falling in Love With Food Before You’re Born

Sandi 3


Sandi Lessert is a self-proclaimed Disney Geek. Photo courtesy of Sandi Lessert.

“For me, food started at birth, and maybe before then,” Sandi Lessert said to me over the phone. “I guess it’s so much a part of our family, I kind of wonder how much of it’s in your DNA.”

I’ve been collecting our customers’ stories as they relate to food, life and travel. Sandi, who took all three Tasting Kauai food tours with her husband, Jay, and their close friend, Dave, said food is important when she travels because she has to eat, so she might as well eat well. She also said food has a way of connecting people, and it’s a great way to get to know local culture.

Students received paper chef toques and Run Disney aprons, even though they didn’t actually cook in the “Lunch and Learn” cooking class at Napa Rose restaurant. Photo courtesy of Sandi Lessert.

“Food tours are a quick way to connect and feel more at ease, more comfortable in getting oriented,” says Sandi, who lives in Portland, Oregon. “Hands down, your tours, collectively and individually, gave me the most insight about a place.”

As a self-proclaimed “Disney Geek,” Sandi chases Disney like Remy the rat pursues becoming a great chef in the film Ratatouille. Next month, Sandi and her husband are running a half marathon at Disneyland Paris. After that, they’re going to Provence for a cooking class.

“Last fall, I had the fortune of dining with an acquaintance and manager at Walt Disney World, who mentioned the cooking class and really couldn’t say enough good about it.”

Sandi has been on so many Disney expeditions, she stopped keeping track. A three-day weekend excursion is a recent example. It begins in Denver where Sandi watches the debut of Frozen, before it runs on Broadway. From there, a trip to Southern California for a VIP tour of Walt Disney Imagineering, which is not open to the public. She gets to go because she was the successful bidder on at silent auction fundraiser. The next day, she meets up with a friend at the Grand Californian Hotel, a Disneyland Resort & Spa. The trip ends with CHOC Walk in the Park, an annual 5K through Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park and the Downtown Disney District, to benefit Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

Sandi and a friend on the steps to the Main Street Train Station. It was fitting, as they were there for a very special event to celebrate the return of the Disneyland trains, which were not operating for 18 months, while changes were being made in preparation of the new Star Wars Land. If you look close, you will see trains in the border of their skirts. The design is part of the Mary Blair line.  Mary Blair is known for her “It’s A Small World” design work. Photo courtesy of Sandi Lessert.

Sandi’s passion for Disney began in 1990, when she and Jay took their 3-year-old son to Walt Disney World. She had been once, when she was in high school. With a “been there done that” attitude, she didn’t want to go a second time.

“But I saw Disney’s magic through my son’s eyes,” Sandi recalls, “and it was a slippery slope after that.”

Growing up, Sandi’s family saved money by going on road trips.

“I don’t think my mother was the only one who was like this in the late 50s and early 60s, but she liked to go on Sunday afternoon drives. As we got older, we didn’t want to go. My mother bribed us with food, which is not a good thing to do. I mean, behavior like that is not how people maintain a healthy weight. But she bribed us with the promise of eating at our favorite hamburger joint. During summer vacations on the Oregon Coast, we would dig razor clams and my dad would go fishing. Afterwards, we ate fried clams, smoked salmon and Dungeness crab.”

Sandi at The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Photo courtesy of Sandi Lessert.

Sandi, a Japanese American, had the incredible opportunity to learn from her mother, who Sandi remembers as a phenomenal cook. Sandi feels she learned through osmosis, of “just being around food in the kitchen,” and being able to experience not just Japanese food, but all kinds of food.

“We love food and it’s always been more than a meal,” says Sandi. “My mother knew that. She always insisted that we eat together at dinner. In high school, you think that’s just being silly, but in hindsight, it was very smart of her. My dad worked this weird swing-shift and for years he didn’t have weekends off. The only times that we could count on seeing him, and all of us being together as a family, was at dinner. She said she knew how important that was, not just the food aspect of it, but certainly that was part of it, and so food has been a part of who I am from day one. And like I said, who knows, maybe even before then.”

This is a first in a series of our customers’ stories, which we’ll publish periodically.