Eating L.A. Before It Eats Itself: Blaze Bernstein’s memory lives on in his love of food

Effren Villanueva/Daily Trojan

On Jan. 2 last year, my friend Blaze Bernstein was murdered by a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen.

I repeat this sentence to myself sometimes, as if by saying it more, it becomes easier to accept.

On Jan. 2nd last year, my friend Blaze Bernstein was murdered by a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen. The murderer was a former classmate. I knew them both.

Or, maybe, I repeat this sentence to myself in an attempt to remember Blaze longer. In the weeks following his death, I dug up every photo, gift card and short story that I had from him. I stared at them all. I hugged them tight to my chest. I tried to remember every bit about him, every detail, like the smell of his deodorant and the sound of his laugh.

But of all the details I remember about Blaze, my food memories are the most salient.

Every day senior year, Blaze would unsheath his lunch from his backpack and eat it in the middle of our writing classes. Sometimes, it would be six perfect gyoza arranged in a tupperware container and a tiny bottle filled with soy sauce. Other times, it was a tamal sitting in its corn husk or a Trader Joe’s salad that I would pick the beets off of. He had a near-obsession with Trader Joe’s products, and would make the long trek to the nearest store in a neighboring city each week to stock up on lunch items.  

He often brought his home creations to school for us to eat. I remember the day he brought in a chocolate-dipped cranberry biscotti that I could not stop eating. Another time, it was macaroni and cheese with just a hint of Dijon mustard to balance the flavors. It was clear that he had been watching and reading about food just as long as I had been, if not longer. Our conversations were peppered with references to “The Great British Bake Off,” “Barefoot Contessa” and, of course, Guy Fieri.

The food comedy extended beyond the simple Flavortown memes and deep into Blaze’s personality. One of his best jokes revolved around an imaginary Italian dish, “strombini,” that he would insist was real. Blaze fabricated a recipe and presented it to nonbelievers, even posting it on a Facebook page called “Italian Christmas Recipes.” Another running bit referenced the suggestive nature of a turkey baster, which evolved into us having a Friendsgiving centered on a communal basting of the turkey.

On Jan. 2 last year, my friend Blaze Bernstein was murdered by a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen.

From sharing a disgusting chimichanga at Disneyland to searching through the empty hallways of The Westin Bonaventure for food during a school trip, my memories of eating with Blaze are expansive. I remember him forcing me to drink more water at a local bagel shop after I had overheated on a hike, concerned for my well-being. I remember him eating orange and black cupcakes with me after nobody showed up to my Halloween party sophomore year. But mostly, I remember his endless enthusiasm for food, something he and I shared.

It doesn’t surprise me to that our love of food and writing brought us both to food writing. Before he died, Blaze wrote for the University of Pennsylvania’s food magazine, Penn Appétit.

On Jan. 2 last year, my friend Blaze Bernstein was murdered by a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen. I knew them both. My food memories with his murderer are slim and unremarkable, nothing more than a greasy slice of pizza or a stale donut eaten on the tennis court during P.E. He wore a bullet on a chain around his neck and spoke very little, probably stifling the overwhelming amount of hatred and rage contained in his body.

The last time I ever saw Blaze was over FaceTime The conversation was composed mostly of his complaints about an intricate tofu dish he photographed for Penn Appétit, which took several hours to make. At the end of our call, he sent me a picture of the final product — two arching semicircles, one of crisp tofu and sprigs of parsley, the other a dark brown sauce, perfectly arranged on a blue plate. It stared at me like it had been plucked from a Michelin-star restaurant and it wasn’t far off.

Blaze had the exacting personality and creative spirit of a masterful chef and had, he continued to live, he would probably scrutinize every word in my columns. When I write, I think about his writing, his editing, his enthusiasm. While I can’t write down every memory of him, part of each piece is always dedicated to his memory.

I hope he likes them.

Christina Tiber is a junior writing about food. Her column, “Eating L.A. Before It Eats Itself,” runs every other Thursday.