Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's Cooking?

It is nearly impossible to articulate the range and depth of emotions, expectations, desires and fears that can accompany something so essential and universal as creating and serving food to those we care about. We plan, we shop, we prepare, we pour ourselves into the foods creation, we present… and we hope. The process and the food I place on the table is more than a meal, more than a recipe or dish. When shared with my children, it is a learning/teaching opportunity. When shared with my wife it is the continuation of a long held common passion and connection. And when shared with close friends it is an opportunity to say thank you, congratulations, we’ve missed you, it is great to see you again. Planning, preparing, serving, sharing and enjoying great food is always an opportunity to bond with others and to impart a touch of ourselves to others.

In Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate, the main character Tita nourishes and cares for her family through her food. But she also literally, physically pours herself into the foods creation. Her emotions, passions, tears and even her blood infuses her food, imparting that day’s fervor, sorrow or joy to all who eat of her food. This ability to infuse elements of oneself into our food is, I believe, something to be desired, but also something that must be carefully watched. As I prepare and serve my food I try to infuse my passion for food and my respect for those that farm, produce, sell, serve and make it all possible, into the cooking and dining experience with family and friends. I like to believe that my joy of creating, my love of culinary exploration and my gratitude are infused within my food, and like Tita’s emotions, are experienced by those that I feed. However, if I believe this to be true, then I must be constantly on guard that I do not infuse my cooking with negative influences, petty frustrations, anger, worries, jealousy and exhaustion.

The old cliché “What’s Cooking?” has been much on my mind lately. Not the “what’s happening?” or even the “what’s physically on the range top bubbling away?”, but rather a deeper question – “What IS Cooking?” What is this act, this gesture, this physical, mental and perhaps spiritual endeavor of preparing, serving and sharing food? What is cooking? – It is an honor, a privilege, a gift, a nourishing, enriching, educational, altruistic, loving, exciting, and yes sometimes exhausting opportunity to communicate with others through the language of food. Sure, I cook because I like the process and I love the food, but on a deeper level I create food for those I care about because they are good, kind people and my food is a way that I can give back to them. What’s cooking? – it is for me, like Tita, “like water for chocolate” – that one element that brings everything together, transcending the commonplace, resulting in something glorious to be experienced and savored.

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