Why I Cook
(a response to Andrew Weil)
For some years, I’ve quipped, “I like to eat, so I learned to cook.” And while that is most assuredly true, that glib statement fails to explain why.
First, a confession is in order. I must admit that I don’t cook as often as I should. The demands of the days often have us looking for a quick bite or a restaurant stop. For this I will apologize to my darling wife and also beg her forgiveness for being a bum and letting her prepare meals that I should have been cooking instead. And as long as I’m here in the confessional, I might as well fess up to my uncanny ability to thoroughly trash our kitchen with a single meal. Mea culpa, penance to be assigned later.
Back to the main (dis)course:
For me cooking is communion. Not in the sense of the Eucharist, but as a prelude to the spiritual main event of dining. Dear friends and family are frequent guests at our table. With them, and the aforementioned sweetie, I’ve learned that the preparation and sharing of a fine meal is a singular joy.
For a perfect dinner, there must be bread. Water, flour, yeast and salt in various proportions artfully combine to yield the staff of life. The anticipation of fresh bread, properly started the day before as poolish is a multi-sensory extravaganza. The golden brown crust crackles, the aromas seduce and silky green olive oil with fresh cracked pepper tantalizes. (Yes, my bread is absolutely as sexy as that sounds — just ask around. Here, have some more wine, too.)
When we are able as an extended ‘family’ to enjoy an extraordinary meal together, new bonds are formed and old ones renewed. Sips and bites are the tribal ties which for a least that one evening, bring people to warm room or sunny patio to tell their stories. New stories are shared, and often old ones retold, once again forgetting which have been shared before and who was there. Perhaps we don’t care all that much if it was a retelling, because those tales become our own sacred ceremonies with a value that transcends the story.
We’ve celebrated so many dinners, with bottles (nay cases) of wine. And those dinners have changed over time.
Throughout the years, we’ve collected and refined a number of special and signature dishes. They are often iteratively developed and prepared, with mild critiques and tweaks that eventually bring it to the point where it feels perfect to us. Of course, our tastes have changed over those years as well. We strive for healthier meals, fewer starches and more veggies, with smaller portions. Italian and simple French influences imbue our cooking, as I eschew the culinary traditions of my stout German and Irish heritage. Thereby, our traditions evolve and simmer like the flavors on the stove.
So I cook to share, to bond, to hold close those whom I love around a table. For me, those feel like excellent reasons.
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