I continue to cook three meals a day. Even though there has been some movement in restaurant openings here. I just don’t feel comfortable eating outside our home…not quite yet. It’s a good thing that I love to cook.
As I cook, I am often reminded of my restaurant days, when I cooked from the moment I opened my eyes until the moment before I closed them or so it seemed. I loved the kitchen life, every second of sweat, pressure, in an almost violent atmosphere as the crew battled to stay in step with the chef’s demands with orders flying through the door at breakneck speed. I was young and had never felt more alive or more at home.( I was only sensitive to the chef’s screaming as we worked. I have always been sensitive to yelling.)
We worked closely together through the pressure of service. We were as much a family as our actual families, celebrating birthdays, triumphs and tears together as only a kitchen crew knows. It’s a unique bond that forms. I’m not sure why. The heat, the stress, the long hours together; who knows? But it’s a bond that is intense.
My favorite ritual of kitchen life was the ‘family meal,’ a simple dinner served to all the cooking and wait staff before the chaos of service ensued. Usually prepared by a line (or grill or fry) cook while the rest of kitchen buzzed with preparation for the evening ahead, family meal was a time when we all took a breath and ate together, talking over each other and laughing (or crying) about whatever was going on in our lives.
The cook who prepped the family meal didn’t order in his or her ingredients, but scavenged the walk-in and pantry for what might not be needed that night and would use incredible creativity and skill to come up with an inspired meal to nourish the staff through the physical strain of service.
As the pandemic wears on, I find myself feeling like the cook in charge of the family meal, literally. I open the fridge and scavenge for what still be fresh from this week’s (or last) week’s shop and raid the pantry for anything that will make an inspired meal. Some days I am more successful than others.
It occurs to me though, with my restaurant days are long behind me, that my current mission is to keep my loved ones as healthy and fit as possible so we all have a fighting chance to fight off infection. The family meal on steroids.
When I think about it, the family meal is the perfect description of eating in so many ways. Growing up, dinner was sacred family time. Like clockwork we gathered around the table (if you missed dinner, you had better have one incredible excuse), said grace and ate together, sharing our day’s adventures, our highs and lows, triumphs and tears, talking over each other. laughing. It created an intense bond. So it was not unfamiliar to me when I experienced that sacred meal time once again, but with my fellow chefs, cooks and staff.
There’s something about dining together that binds humans like little else.
And so I cook. I use seasonal ingredients as I can get them. I stock my pantry with the best quality ingredients I can get my hands on. Flour and water mix with sourdough starter create the pizza and bread we enjoy weekly. Grains and beans turn into everything from soups and stews to main courses. Many of us now are making more than we are buying. There’s a great satisfaction in that. I have often said that knowing what’s in your food and where it comes from is one of the essential parts of hanging on to health.
I build our wellness on the foundation of ancient wisdom that drives my mission. I never forget that food has an energetic quality and a physical quality so that my mood when I cook can influence how my household moves through the world. I stay strong and happy when cooking to pass that energy to those I love best.
I cook so that we have a fighting chance in this bizarre time in which we live. I hope you do too.