For me, and it turns out, lots of other folks, cooking is about love.
It really is that simple.
If I didn’t have a family, or roommates or friends, and I didn’t work as a chef or line cook–in other words, if I was completely and utterly alone, I probably wouldn’t cook much that was interesting, and I certainly wouldn’t write a food blog.
Cooking for myself is bloody boring, not to mention a pain in the wazoo–why make that much of a mess just for myself? Especially since it would be myself cleaning up that mess without help or companionship in the kitchen.
So, were it just me, there would be no Beouf Bourguignon, Hillbilly Fried Rice or Panko Fried Catfish. No Chicken with Bitter Melon. No Thai Green Curry. No Bacon-Filled Waffles with Chili-Fried Apples. Nothing that really required multiple steps, lots of oil, large vegetables, hand-made curry pastes, special electric appliances or leftovers.
It isn’t as if I would never cook at all.
If it was just me, I would barely bake. Why make cheesecake just for yourself? Or Aphrodite Cakes? Or Aztec Gold Brownies? Or even my beloved sour cherry pie, for goodness sake? No one should eat an entire pie, for various reasons, and if I wasn’t going to eat the entire thing and it was just me, well, then, I would just not bake the pie in the first place.
Luckily, few cooks live in completely isolation. We almost always have someone around for whom to cook and it is a good thing too. Not just for our waistlines, but for our sanity as well.
I fully believe that most people who love to cook, and this includes line cooks and chefs, do so not only because they love food and the challenge of working alchemical arts upon it, but because they love people, and their favored way of showing that love is through feeding them.
Every great chef or cook I have ever known, even the cynical and cranky ones, even the most crusty and snide ones, all have a heart filled with love for other people, and the desire to show that love through the most intimate act of cooking them food which feeds both body and soul. Often all of that cranky, crusty and cynical demeanor is armor which protects those sweet and loving hearts from the slings and arrows that an often rough world flings in a professional kitchen.
Most home cooks I have known are the same way; they will not hesitate to cook for their loved ones, but can’t be bothered to do much more than scrambled eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches for themselves. My Gram, from whom I learned to cook fried chicken and delicious beef vegetable soup, and who taught both my mother and I how to make homemade noodles, as she got older and after Pappa died, barely cooked for herself. I would go to her house on weekends and cook for her, even though I was in the middle of a divorce and was living forty-five minutes away. I did it because I loved her, she was losing much needed body weight and she would delighted eat whatever high-calorie food I would create for her, and would dutifully heat up the leftovers over the week.
After going to see Julie & Julia with me, Heather said that the main reason she is moving into a house filled with young roomates was so she would have someone to cook for. She had already made her reputation as a cook in her office by bringing batches of Aphrodite Cakes and Aztec Gold Brownies to share, but she wants to do more. (And, as she noted on her Facebook page, she now wants to learn French food! Yeah, Julia–still inspirational after all of these years!)
When she said that, Dan, who also went to see it with us, pointed out that Neil Peart, famed drummer for Rush, has a food blog on his website. In the opening essay of the blog, Peart talks about how he learned to cook for his first wife when she was ill, and as such, has come to see cooking as a very visceral expression of love. Left to his own devices, he’d not cook–he doesn’t love it for itself. He loves cooking for the people he loves– and that is a distinction that I believe most people would understand and agree with.
My first guinea pig, I mean, cooking student, Bill, figured it all during the hours of a long evening of the two of us cooking a multi-course Chinese feast at the home of a friend who had never tasted our food before.
It was a stressful evening for Bill–me–I was in my element. When we had gone to Krogers here in Athens (we were visiting from Maryland), I had found that there was no ground pork to be had, so I had shrugged, bought pork shoulder and loin and had declared I would simply mince it by hand with two matched cleavers–mine and Bill’s. This process is loud and flashy, and before long, half of the twenty-odd diners had popped their heads into the smallish kitchen to see what the ruckus was about.
Bill worked quickly and efficiently, but had the air of a wild rabbit harried by hounds–breathless and wide-eyed.
By the time we served the first course, a hot and sour soup fragrant with lemongrass and galangal, Bill’s face had taken on the look of a whitetail deer in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler on a rainy night. He was terrified.
I whispered in his ear, “Relax. Remember, no apologies, and no fears. Ever.”
When everyone had filed through the kitchen and ladled up their soup, he and I both two small bowls, and slipped into the nearly silent living room.
I say nearly silent because while there was a lot of sipping and noisy slurping going on, no one, but no one was talking.
Everyone’s head was bowed over their bowls as they busily ate the soup in great gulps.
I smiled, sat and sipped my soup, while watching everyone else eat.
When I looked up, Bill was sitting across from me on a floor pillow. He hadn’t touched his soup, even though he hadn’t eaten all day.
He was just gazing around, smiling goofily.
“Now I understand,” he whispered, “Why you barely eat anything when you cook for people. You don’t need to.”
I grinned and rose, heading back to the kitchen after finishing my last swallow of my meager bowl of soup.
When Bill followed me, I nodded. “My food is their delight, not the food I cook.”
As he sipped his soup, I turned back to the stove.
“Let’s get back to work,” I said. “Spring rolls can’t roll and fry themselves, you know.”
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