I was always attracted to the kitchen during holidays at a very young age. Mostly because I was like a well-trained chubby pelican at a Florida boat ramp, waiting for any free unearned treats. But also because it amazed me how in a tiny kitchen of organized chaos, soon would be delivered a beautiful array of food perfectly placed onto our dinning room table. Adorned with candles, folded napkins and shiny silver wear. After the first call that dinner was ready, the men would stumble and stagger in with belly’s already bulging from the previous holiday meal. They would plop themselves into their favorite chairs in a triumphant manner, as if they were the ones to craft the feast themselves.
But I knew the secret to the success of a well-cooked meal. It is something that you can’t find in a restaurant as hard as you try. It is an ingredient that people always search for from their childhood taste buds, but is so hard to find elsewhere. Every now and then you can almost taste it, but it’s just a flavor of the memory, not the meal of past happiness. I learned what this secret is by observation, and I know for a fact it is the only thing that keeps people coming back for more in my kitchen. There is only one way to keep a secret a secret. But maybe after reading you can figure it out on your own.
When I was younger I heard a saying that most of us have heard “If you want to be happy, find a job that you truly enjoy and you will never feel like you are at work”. As a man now, I find joy in several hobbies. I just have a certain desire to delve so deeply into my favorite hobbies that they all nearly become careers. And that is what I have done with cooking. I am far from a chef and will never claim to be one. I know so little about cooking that I feel like every dinner I cook properly is a pure miracle. But one thing I have is passion. Preparing a meal is my way of putting my feelings on a plate. A way to put purpose into my efforts of preserving what I have learned in a history of watching the amazing cooks in my family.
But the one thing I’ll never forget is how one healthy sized Czechoslovakian grandmother, one petite grandmother from Newcastle England, and my beautiful mother, could all cook a meal for Italian New York men that spoke to every taste bud at the table.
Those smiling, round rumped women in my family would have a rhythm in the kitchen that made me feel like I wanted to just jump in to the dance floor. No matter how badly I stepped on their toes, I wanted in. I would get easy jobs like, adding pinches of salt, which seemed to fall better if I sprinkled it from high above the steaming hot veggies. I would get the important task of bruising up a single potato with a butter knife for an hour.
But one the one thing I learned from my foremothers, outside of how to distract a talentless kid, was how to care for food that you were serving to the ones you love.
I saw a focus on each course that would be made, as if they were creating not food but something that had a life itself. A skill that went way beyond just respect for the ingredients. There was a mother like care to the food, that was a special additive you could taste all the way into the gravy.
The experience of passion in cooking is something I can’t help but do every time I cook. I know no other way. So even though I have limited understanding of what a real chef in the kitchen will do, I have learned to always add the one ingredient that makes every home made meal special. Love.
It always keeps em coming back for more.