When I Fell in Love with Cooking
May 17, 2010 § 32 Comments
I miss cooking. Not my kitchen, not my fridge, nor my pots and pans (though those are just to die for). No. What I yearn for is the process of making a meal. The gurgling of a rolling boil. Pasta thrown into the water. The sputtering simmer of a saucepan brimming with rich, rose red marinara. A spoonful of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. The heady fragrance of sauteeing garlic and herbs. Surefire ecstasy for the sense of smell.
I miss the layering of ingredients, the depth of flavor, the trust I’ve gained in myself as a cook. The anticipation of taste and texture. The fact that the end game is always an exhibit of my own creativity. The way that careful plating feeds the eyes first. I miss the natural ease, the sashay from stovetop to sink to counter. From mince to mix to mascerate.
I don’t just love food. It’s not the strands of linguine wrapped around the tines of a fork that I’m after. It’s knitting the velvet robe of bechamel. It’s not even the slice of dark chocolate torte. Ok, it is the slice of chocolate torte. What I mean to say, is that my passionate love affair with food does not begin and end with the food itself. I fell in love with the dish, the slice, the bowlful, through the learning… and the labor… and the loving memories tied to them.
Where did it all begin? At what point did I transform from food spectator to food specialist? I think it was in Italy four years ago. A galley kitchen in Roma. I’d stopped at the market to pick up fresh linguine, creamy mascarpone cheese, smoked salmon, a couple brown eggs, and bottle of fruity olive oil. A few of my friends had told me of a simple smoked salmon carbonara that they’d tried near Via Veneto. It sounded simple enough that I must have thought I was capable of creating something from nothing. Either that or the wine at lunch was doing the thinking for me. Vino or not, a meal was born.
The confidence that came with the successful execution of a few pure ingredients was magic. It made me crave more. So I cooked on. Simple dishes like pasta primavera, a broiled filet of salmon, and bruschetta. My friends and I would throw dinner parties, trading off locations and responsibilities. Learning to really cook is about a willingness to experiment. It’s following a few basic recipes until you’ve mastered them, and then moving on to bigger, more daring dishes.
It was an exploration in taste and technique. And I felt like an adult. My whole life, I loved to watch my mom cook. If we were to dig up her birth certificate, we’d find her middle name to be “From Scratch.” The woman was making homemade crackers, pies, stews, wellingtons, and pates, faster than Good Housekeeping could churn out a cookbook. It was marvelous. I’d look up at her dusting confectioner’s sugar on a pan of the most lusciously lemon squares. With guests to arrive any minute, she’d still have her wet hair in a towel, basting a golden brown bird with buttery glaze. She wrote the book on entertaining. The whole enchilada- from table setting, to theme, to tettrazini followed by tiramisu.
Inspiration is an understatement. Even at age 4 I was helping her frost a freshly baked layer cake. We were browsing the Silver Palate Cookbook like a bedtime story. The memories I have of my mother’s kitchen escapades could fill a book. A bookcase.
Not only do I vividly remember the dishes and the deliberate technique, but I also remember the light in her eyes as she served a meal. I became conscious that her devotion wasn’t the dinner but the diners. She loved, and still loves, to nurture. To make others smile, even if only through their bellies. And now, perhaps because we’ve never fully cut the umbilical cord, I feel the same.
Since cooking has been my religion for the past four or so years, many have asked me if I’d consider culinary school. Hmmm. I don’t think so. Because what I’ve come to learn about myself, through thinking about my mother, and my life as a foodie, is that the people I serve are equally as important as the components of the meal. That is to say, at least half of my culinary passion exists in feeding my loved ones. And though I can’t be sure, I’m guessing that I might not love cooking quite as much for Dave Diner or Carrie Customer. And when I do create a plate that I believe in, I love nothing more than sitting down at the table to enjoy it in the company of my family and friends.
That being said, I have toyed with baking. Opening my own bakery that doubles as a cafe. A cozy spot where people stop in for breakfast or meet for lunch. Just me in a buttery apron, kneading dough and licking the bowl of cookie dough. No. That’s unsanitary. I’d have to get a clean spoon first. But really, there are only so many confections I can eat all by my onesies:
Cream Filled Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache
Thank you, as always, for reading.