It’s a shame that for most of us food has become an afterthought. Unfortunately, too often even the food enjoyed in the convivial atmosphere of a restaurant or at a dinner party is just routine – while it should be a gift from the heart. It’s hard to approach every meal with such a thought in mind – at home because feeding a family might have become an unwelcome chore in the midst of our hurried lives and, professionally, because so many people tend to be involved in one single dish that to keep them all interested, focussed and happy can be impossible.
Yet, take the beauty of a cutting board, a knife and a bunch of raw vegetables waiting to be transformed. The already chopped onions and herbs and fruit might be a convenience (an expensive one) but they take away the meditative quality that peeling and slicing and chopping bring to the experience. Round slices of carrots sticking to the side of the knife and gently pushed away by a fingertip, shining half moons of onion yielding to the blade, the aromas of fresh herbs getting stronger with every pounding on the board.Whenever I am in a bad mood I know I can rely on whatever is awaiting in the fridge to lift my spirit. Sometimes I cook even if no one is there to eat, as meditation. I used to sit cross-legged and focus my attention on my breathing or whatever else an endless stream of yoga instructors suggested until I figured out that chopping parsley achieved the same result.
When cooking, I feel that the intention is half the battle. I was fully prepared to be critical the first time I ate at a Mario Batali’s restaurant – I couldn’t. The spirit of the region he had drawn inspiration from was there on the plate, telling me everything I needed to know about what I was eating. A seafood dinner at the house of a childhood friend became memorable because her trip to the Fish market early that morning, the memory of a dish she tasted in Sardinia and tried to reproduce were all there, on the plate. The Jamaican jerk gulped down sitting on the pavement tasted of the smile and the songs of the man who made it. Which explains why our mother’s food is often what we crave most. Creativity without soul will never get far, whatever the artistic medium. If we could only get out of our way and let our unconscious take over a bit more often – paired with whatever technical skills we have acquired over time it’s what will fuel our best and most loving work.