One of my earliest memories of a great dish -- when I first understood that food could be amazing -- took place when I was 10 years old. My mother, sister and I lived on the Central Coast of California near Hearst Castle in San Simeon. We lived in a trailer park across Highway 1 from the Pacific Ocean about fifteen minutes south of the castle and about twenty minutes north of Cambria. The entire area is stunningly beautiful. We spent many afternoons walking the rocky usually chilly beach five minutes from home picking up shells and rocks, and collecting driftwood.
As I remember the day, after one of our afternoon walks, we returned home and upon opening the door the most wonderful, amazing smell wafted over us. I was instantly intrigued as it smelled delicious. Like nothing I had smelled before. I went to the kitchen and looked in the oven, and inside were six papaya halves baking away. But there was no one in the trailer. Who had made this amazing dish?
It turns out that, Wally, a family friend had come down from Carmel and while we were out made one of his signature dishes: Baked Papaya. The smells of the cooking process had permeated the small trailer. He had stepped out to get something. For a 10-year old it was all very magical and mysterious and who knows how much the interceding years have affected those memories. It is still one of my earliest and strongest food memories. When Chef Wally returned we all sat down and ate the baked papayas and they were as delicious as they smelled. I asked Wally to send the recipe and he did. I have made it many times over the years.
The funny part to this story is that when I recently asked my mother about it she had to correct a few things. I thought Wally really was a chef at a restaurant in Carmel – all these years I thought that. He had signed the hand written recipe ‘Chef Wally'. Well, as my mother patiently explained, Wally was not a chef but a traveling auto parts salesman -- albeit one who liked to cook and was quite good in the kitchen. So my memory of this great chef giving me one of his coveted recipes was dashed. No matter it’s still a recipe that I cherish, and make, to this day.
This dish can be eaten alone, or can be served with pork or fish dishes -- like pork chops, roast pork, or a sturdy fish like Mahi Mahi, or red snapper, etc. A full-bodied white wine like a Chardonnay is a good wine to accompany it.