Alex defines Old School as “anything or things that refer to a previous generation of a subject/idea/object/etc. typically, they are highly regarded and sometimes the very things that started it all.” What makes this book old school is that it tells the story of how things got started within her and continue to exist in her cooking to this day. It is the common thread, which runs across her life and her cooking, which tells the story of how she came to where she is in her culinary journey.
As I was reading this part of her story, I found myself singing a variation of a song by Bishop Larry Trotter called My Worship is for Real. In my head, the song sounded something like this.
You don't know my story
All the things that I've been through
You can't feel my pain
What I had to go through to get here
You'll never understand me as a chef
Don't try to figure it out
Because my cooking
Is for real
It seems like, for the most part, that most of the people who are fans of Alex as a chef appreciate her for her cooking, the way she talks about food, and the passion she seems to demonstrate when judging and cooking. Rarely do we get to understand where that passion comes from and how it got woven into the fabric of our being. Sometimes our passions in life begin before we are even cognizant of them. For Alex, her relationship with food began when she was a child watching her parents cook. For me, it was not a relationship with food, which I learned from my parents, it was an appreciation for the spiritual lessons to be learned in life, which came from my mother and my father’s mother, my Bubby. These two women introduced me to the power of faith and prayer.
One of the spiritual values that Alex and I seem to share is what I call presence and she calls watchfulness. In cooking, some ingredients can go from being perfect to burnt, in a split second. It is important to stay present and mindful of what is happening in each moment. Someone I once knew taught me that the two most dangerous places to be were the past and the future. Being in the present, keeps me from missing anything that is happening in my life. Sometimes accidents, life and cooking, happen when we are not watching what is happening in the moment.
Faith is another value. As she talked about braising short ribs, she wrote, “Just mix the meat with salt, some vegetables, some wine, and some faith. … There is no replacing heat and time with a recipe like that and the magic happens as we stand still and allow the ingredients to fulfill their delicious destiny.” Cooking requires faith. Once you have mixed all the ingredients together, you have done all you can. So now you must patiently wait and have faith that all will turn out the way it is supposed to at the end of the process. There is an element of faith in knowing that the same process, which worked to make those mouth watering short ribs last time, will work again this time.
Patience is another virtue we both seem to have developed. As Alex said, “there is no replacing heat and time.” Whether it is while waiting for short ribs to slowly cook, turning countless artichokes, or waiting for the soufflé to rise, we learn valuable lessons by being patient with the process and knowing in the end that it will all be okay. I have learned patience while making grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, and any kind of pasta dish. I have also learned to be patient with others and myself through my teaching and journeying with others and myself spiritually. Sometimes I want to see someone take that leap of faith now, but I release that and let him or her take as much time as they need “to fulfill their delicious destiny.”
Cooking, for Alex, and spirituality, for me, is not just something we do; it is at the root of who we are. Alex, in talking about one of her early experience, talked about it being a kinetic experience and how “that energy traveled straight up my arms and into my brain and left me powerless when faced with the choice of a profession.” While there has been a gradual movement in my life that led me to my present state, I knew early on that there was a power in this world that was something I could not comprehend or explain. Even as a child I knew there was a force that when I prayed would sweep down and through every cell of my being. I would hear things and know things I could not explain to others and did not have a point of reference to help me in my own understanding other then God.
Alex and I have both had our revelations in life. One of hers was how lemon could brighten and lighten the taste of foods. Another was to use two different textures of the same ingredient in one dish. For me, the revelations have been about the universe, the power of healing, energy, and the presence of angels in my daily life.
There were also pivotal moments in both our lives, which led to us finding our voices. For Alex, it was becoming the Executive Chef at Butter and cooking foods that were her and grounded her in her roots and celebrated her journey. For me, it was resigning from my pastorate and beginning Inspiritual. It was the opportunity to create a “menu” of “dishes” for people to use in learning how to feed themselves spiritually. While we are both tweaking our menus to this day, where I am now is rooted in some old school values and beliefs, some of which I was exposed to growing up, others I learned before I was ever born, and some that I have learned along the way.
Old school is not old fashioned. It is just about being grounded in those things, which are important to you and walking in the truth of who you are and were created to be.
 Alex Guarnaschelli, (2013). Ols School Comfort Food: The Way I learned to Cook. New York: Crown Publishing. P. 9
 Ibid., P. 10.
 Ibid., P.11