I always love it when my friends call me and tell me they found someone who thinks the same way I do about food and cooking. Recently, this came about in a video someone shared with me about how to cut an onion. What Cynthia Lair, the speaker in this video, discussed was not so much about how to cut an onion, although she physically demonstrates that as well. What she talked about was the importance of being present when you are cooking. Given that this is our theme for this month, I knew I had to write about this.
Cooking is an art; it is about creating art on a plate. In order for me to do so, I have to be present so I can create a balance of flavors and textures. I also have to be present as I think about how I want to place the various components on the dish. The creation of this piece of art begins with each of the ingredients and enabling the various ingredients to communicate with me through all of my senses. For example, this morning the chicken made this sizzling sound when I placed it in the sauté pan to let me know that I had done a great job of making sure the pan was hot enough. Or the shrimp tell me when it is time to turn them over by the way they change colors. The cauliflower, which I have begun to think of as colormeflower, looks at me and tells me its nooks and crannies are there ready for me to pour flavor into.
Regardless of what I am intending to cook, I always ensure that I have one ingredient in me. It is my go to ingredient, which I add it to every dish and that is love.
I have learned there are two things that tend to ensure my food does not taste good. One is when I am not cooking from a space of love and infusing what I am making with love. I wrote about this in a previous blog here, but also in a tweet to Alex Guarnaschelli when she was beating herself for not feeling like she had mentored someone well enough. Her teammate did not like chicken breasts and was complaining about them the whole time. When Anne Burrell ate it, she did not like the dish and she ultimately got sent home. While I was not there to taste that dish, I have tasted plenty of dishes where love had not been infused into every phase of the preparation.
Not only do I need to be present with what I am feeling, but also I need to be present with the process. I have mentioned in this month’s newsletter that the two most dangerous places to be are the past and the future. The same is true for cooking. I have to be in the present. What I mean is that I have to be aware of what is happening right now. I have to be focused on whatever I am doing now, not worrying about what has already happened or what might happen.
When I am being present with my cooking, then I am paying attention to the colors of the products before me, the flavors of the spices, the textures of the vegetables and the meats. I can experience the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of the products I am working with. I know I am present when I remember to honor the product before me and know that there is no such thing as an inferior product. When I am present, I am creating art, I am singing with the sounds of the food as it cooks. I am inhaling the aromas that fill the room. I know I am present because the meal is more than just a meal; it is an opportunity to be blessed, to experience the Divine, to be in the present with and in the presence of the Divine. It is an opportunity for me to become a multidimensional artist creating edible art for those I love.
So the next time you cook, gather together all your ingredients, especially your love, stay in the present and experience what promises to be a spiritually exhilarating conversation with your food.