Updated: Sep 8, 2021
No matter how bad things have gotten, and lately they have been feeling pretty bad, there is one thing in my life that lifts my spirits. One thing that makes me believe that there could be a better future for people all over the planet. As you may have guessed, food is that one thing. Simple, but true, and food knows its power. Food understands that it can touch people's hearts and unite them if people are willing.
In my dreams, I own a restaurant where strangers sit side by side and eat, communal tables are lined with enormous platters brimming with gorgeous food. As strangers pass food to each other, they become acquainted, and maybe even friends. They talk and laugh and tell each other what the food is like at their house, what their mother used to put in the family's chili recipe, and what vegetables their little brother would never eat.
I understand that right now, this type of connection isn't possible, and the world is the poorer for it. In this world, we are becoming more and more afraid of what we think we know about the "other," and want to protect more and more what we are afraid to lose.
In another world perhaps, and in another time, because right now, in this moment, with the health violations alone, I know my dream restaurant would never get off the ground. And more distressingly, people seem to have grown even more afraid of each other. But I have faith in food of all kinds. I believe that if we really wanted to solve the world's problems, all we would have to do is share a meal, made with love by people who love food just as much as I do. What better way to come together than over a bowl of linguini and meat balls? What is more life-affirming than a big plate of meats and cheeses from all over the world? What is more fun that watching children giggle as they dip grilled cheese sandwiches, dripping with goodness, into steaming hot bowls of tomato soup?
My love for food is reaffirmed with the change of seasons, and the changes always get me thinking of my next meal. Spring brings ramps, morels, breakfast radishes and English peas in the beginning, sweet strawberries and raspberries at the end. Summer comes and I become a stone cold, stone fruit addict, along with corn, tomatoes, and crisp, green string beans. In Fall, all I want is to roast; squash with leeks and Brussel sprouts. Maybe throw in some pork bellies for extra flavor. In Winter, I fall in love with the produce that I have canned and preserved throughout the season, plus a plethora of citrus from places warmer than where I lay my head. I could go on all day listing the ingredients that make my mouth water, but the point of this writing, here and now is to tell you, there is hope.
There is hope because when you love food like I do, there are no bad food memories. Like that time when I was visiting with my roommate's family in the Bronx on break from culinary school and his sister threw the Easter leg of lamb at my roomie's unsuspecting noggin while his mother screamed in horror. Some people would have a problem with this; not me. This type of extreme family meal has only made my life richer for the experience. An experience surrounded by food, glorious food. Thanks Pete, for the invite. I will see you again and we will break bread.
There are no bad food memories. My family, gathering around a perfectly cooked brisket with roasted veggies and my Bubbe's latkes, bringing family together from all corners. It doesn't get better than that. I miss it more as the pandemic eases and I grow older. We all need more memories over brisket and latkes.
There are no bad food memories. For most of my years on major holidays in the industry, I have cooked for others, whether it is for thousands at a hotel or hundreds at a soup kitchen. There is something very special about cooking a good meal for strangers during the holidays. Profound food memories, permeated with laughter and sweat, are formed with the kitchen staff coming together to cook for strangers. I have to believe that they felt like they were part of something very special, too; the dynamics of the kitchen, punctuated with team work and helpful hands. My vivid memories of calling Humberto at 4 am to check to make sure that the first batch of 40 turkeys are in the oven and the kitchen is humming.
"I'll be in, in an hour Humberto, thank you and happy Thanksgiving."
There are no bad food memories. Those people were my surrogate family, going into battle every holiday against the crush of holiday cheer. I loved every minute of it and wouldn't trade those meals and memories with those people for the world. We always made a point after service to share a holiday meal together. Multi-cultured, somewhat deviant, sometimes arguing, always there for each other; our loving culinary family.
Madonna, in her infinite wisdom, said the world was a better place before the cell phone, I couldn't agree more. Less screen time, more meal time. There are no bad food memories.
Until next week,