the most important ingredient

when i tell people i’m a chef, their first question is more often than not, “what is your specialty?”, or, more dreadfully, “what do you cook?”.

call me captain obvious, but i usually say:

“food. i cook food. i try to make it as delicious as possible.”

if this sounds rude, i’m so sorry.

honestly, i don’t have a specialty. i wasn’t trained in a classical, mainstream culinary program. i didn’t do an internship in a fine dining establishment or aspire to be the chef de cuisine at a five star restaurant.

i trained at the natural gourmet institute. a magical culinary school where health, balance, and vitality are the focus, and i tasted as many awful things as i did incredible, one of a kind dishes. (sorry NGI fam, but that solid week of beans and seitan was almost my breaking point.)

so, no, i can’t tell you that my coq au vin will blow your socks off, or that i can whip up a cassoulet like michael ruhlman. what i can tell you is that i love what i do. the culinary world fascinates me. not the one you see on television or read about in magazines. the one inside of each of us.

i believe that each individual has what i call a ‘food identity’. this identity is built over time, shaped by our experiences. the things we crave, the smells that take us back to childhood, the sizzling sounds, the simple beauty of a bowl of fruit. even the foods we detest. all of these culinary memories shape us, connect us to people, even help us to better know ourselves.

what drove me toward becoming a chef more than anything else was an undeniable urge to reconnect people with themselves through their food. we are so out of touch with our appetites, our nutritional needs, our digestive systems, our food sources. we eat on the run, we want fast meals, easy access, minute rice. i understand the time constraints of food preparation.

my question is: what about the time we take to eat the food? to smell it, taste it, look at it?

how often do we focus on chewing one bite?

the most important ingredient, they say, is a little bit of love. (if we were in a debate, i’d say salt is the most important ingredient…but let’s keep love alive.)

for me this is not “the-way-to-a-man’s-heart-is-through-his-stomach” kind of love, but a love of self. a love of the moment. a conscious effort of attention. deliberately using our senses for enjoyment and awareness, not out of habit. as humans, eating is necessary for survival, we all have that in common. furthermore, if we have the luxury of access to food, we should take every opportunity to savor those moments. food is intimate, food is a blessing, and if you are what you eat, why not put as much love into it as you can?

i invite you to add this nice little spice to your eating experiences. it’s a wonderfully diverse ingredient that adapts to any flavor profile and can be added at any time, from that first slice of the knife, a dip in the broth, or halfway through dessert. share the magic that can happen when you eat because you love what you are eating, or who you’re eating it with, or the way it smells when you pull it out of the oven, or because it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever made. home is where the heart is, and it beats in the kitchen.

cook food that makes people smile.

that, dear reader, is what i’d like my specialty to be.

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This entry was published on February 6, 2012 at 15:38 and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “the most important ingredient

  1. Janet Jones on said:

    As warming as the hearth stone in the kitchen of my dreams.

  2. thethirdsisterdonna on said:

    Love! Love! Love! I just loved the peanut butter on whole grain toast I enjoyed for breakfast this morning!

  3. That is terrific , I am coming to see you in May and will let you “cook” for me ….. as long as you have pasta in it , that will be great :):) Love you and so proud of my “Cheeky Chef ” love GMA

  4. Seth on said:

    This is really fascinating. “Food identity” and your ideas about reconnecting to food really made me contemplate how we eat.

    You have a really affable and easygoing way of describing your recipes that makes me want to try them!

  5. Eliza on said:

    Love this Zoe. Can not wait to see more! It is obvious that you love what you are doing so keep doing what you are doing. I’m gonna go eat dinner and savor every bite just a little bit more. Xoxo

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