The other day I was completing my profile on foodbuzz.com – it is a community for food bloggers. Perhaps the question I found most intriguing was when they ask you to list your favorite ingredient. For practicality purposes, I listed butter, but I could have easily put cheese. The problem is that my favorite ingredient is one that will never come up in an ingredient search on any recipe site. Foodbuzz.com, food.com, foodnetwork.com, and any other recipe sites you can think of do not list my favorite ingredient as an ingredient. Yet this one single ingredient can totally transform a dish for me.
The interesting thing about this ingredient is that it is not something you can teach any culinary student to use. There is not a store in the world where you can buy this ingredient. Yet, if you watch any cooking or food show, it is the one-ingredient chefs and food bloggers across the board comment on being able to taste in the food.
Have you figured it out yet?
Maybe you will after I share this story with you. A few years ago, I was at one of my favorite places to go for a great bowl of soup. They always have some of the most intriguing soups. Soups like creamy chicken noodle potpie soup, cheesy buffalo wing soup, cheeseburger macaroni soup and their normal soups, which are always on the menu. I went with my wife one day for lunch and ordered a cup of the creamy chicken noodle potpie soup. With every spoonful, I felt as if there was a symphony of flavors and texture all coming together in a way that made you want to savor every spoonful as if it were your last. The level of enjoyment I was having must have been visible because my wife, who is not a soup eater, decided to try a spoonful of my soup and wound up ordering her own cup. Then we ordered a quart to bring home with us. Yes, it was that good. Every time I went, I would ask about this soup. In fact, I was known to call and ask if it was on the menu. If it was, I made sure I got a bowl of it. It was one of those dishes that was so good; you had to tell the chef how awesome it was.
A few months later, I went in and got excited because MY soup was on the menu. There is was on the menu board – creamy chicken noodle potpie soup. The minute I saw it on the menu, my mouth began anticipating enjoying this amazing soup one more time. I scooped up the first spoonful of the soup and realized something was missing. It looked the same, but it did not taste anything like the soup I had gotten multiple times before. It was one of those experiences where you taste something again thinking surely this is better then I think it is. It wasn’t. Noticing I had barely touched my soup, the server asked if everything was ok. I told her I couldn’t figure out what was different, but something was missing from the soup. It just didn’t taste the way it had every other time it had blessed my lips. She said, “Ah that is because that chef did not make it. One of our other chefs’ made it and all of our customers say the same thing -- something is missing.”
I spent the rest of that afternoon thinking about this soup and came to the realization that what was missing from this soup was my favorite ingredient – love. Love is that ingredient you can taste when it is present and you notice when it is missing. I once heard someone say that what makes soul food, soul food is love. If you can taste the love then it is soul food. If you cannot, then it is just what it is.
It does not even have to be a gourmet dish. It can be something as simple as chocolate chip cookies or waffles or my wife’s favorite, cabbage casserole. You can tell when a dish was made with love and when it wasn’t. One of my best-kept secrets to being a good cook is to use as much of my favorite ingredient as possible. I make sure that my home, my pantry, and my life are well stocked with the one ingredient I never want to run out of – LOVE.