There is this experience in Zen Buddhism called Satori. In its most simplistic terms, it is about seeing the self-nature. While this has traditionally been used to talk about the journey of one’s personal journey to enlightenment, it has also been an important concept for me in terms of my cooking. When I come to appreciate the true nature of the foods with which I am working, it changes the way I experience them sensorally. There is this moment when what I have created looks right, tastes right, smells right and as a whole dish makes sense.
So often, when I am listening to the judges on chopped or even on iron chef America they will talk about how something was missing, there was some element, which was keeping the dish from coming together as a cohesive whole. When there is Satori in our cooking, then everything makes sense.
Usually it takes a while to achieve satori. One of the things I have noticed in my own journey is that I cannot just cook with my head or with heart or with my senses. Rather, they must all be in dialogue with each other. When I taste something sweet, do I understand where that sweetness came from? I can remember a point in time when I did not understand the importance of having a discerning palette. Yet, that is so important not just in cooking, but in life. I remember on one of the episodes of Top Chef they did this blind taste test and contestants had to name the ingredients in the dish. In order to accomplish this, you really have to have raised your sensory awareness to a place where you can taste each ingredient and be mindful of its presence and what it brings to the dish.
While I am getting to a place in my own journey where I understand in my mind what different ingredients bring to the party, so to speak, there are times my allergies dull some of my senses and I cannot fully appreciate the presence of some ingredients. I have also learned that like everything else in my life, the awakening of my senses and my palette is my journey and it is my responsibility to awaken my senses. It is others responsibility to awaken there and there journey to experiencing satori, whether by cooking or eating, is theirs.
So this year, I am committing to re-awakening my senses by tasting, smelling, seeing, touching, and listening to the ingredients in this world in a new way. It is important that I not just honor each ingredient individually and fully understand its true nature, but how it combines with others to create something, which makes sense and offers us a glimpse of culinary enlightenment.