This is my journey as I return to school and work in a profession I once dabbled in as a means for funding an after college 7 year long ski trip...not as a viable career choice. I hope I entertain, enlighten and learn something from any readers I may attract.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Why me and food?

This is not a rant, as much of a reflection. I was posed with the question "why me and food?" the other day. It was interesting to read what other people had to say, and then reflect on the question myself. I think Southerners have an odd relationship with eating and food. It is an event. For us, Sunday always meant Sunday Dinner with my grandparents at around 1 or 2. It was the midday spread with fresh veggies, a delicious meat, and a leisurely pace. We had close to a Christmas meal 52 weeks a year. It was just what we did. I believe it was not unusual as I recall other kids eating dinner at their grandparents' homes too. It's funny. Oblivious me, I didn't realize we were using china and silver and crystal until my mother started giving me sets of china for every occasion (5 full sets and growing!) I never saw it as pageantry or anything, it was normal. It wasn't like today.We use our china daily and people think we are nuts. The everyday china my mother gave me is just that. My little (and only)sister has never used any of her china for food. Sure she has some of it displayed, depending on the season, but no plate has ever needed to be washed. She couldn't have people for dinner if she tried. It just didn't hit her the way it hit me. Yeah, we have to eat but let's make it good. I love cooking a great meal for friends, and serving it attractively. It is fun! Supper each night for us is a chance to unwind and discuss the day. I fully love cooking and enjoy talking to my husband so I actually look forward to suppertime. I think I was influenced by the women in my family who enjoyed it the was I do. My Mama loves cooking dinner on Sundays. My grandmother loved food so much she would savor each bite, often taking twice as long to finish half as much as everyone else. They saw it as a pleasure. I see it as a pleasure. I think I got it.
On the other side of the family, my father was raised in a mill village with 4 siblings. Simple country folk, these grandparents stretched every dollar and despite socio-economic differences from my mother's clan, they ate like kings. Disposed royalty, but royalty nonetheless. According to family lore, the children and my grandfather would all come home for lunch. Every day! Not only did my grandmother cook supper but apparently they enjoyed a large lunch daily as well. Don't get me started on this grandmother. I never met her but fourty years after her death, her cakes apparently are still the stuff of legend. Even though they raised 5 kids in a mill village, they came up with college tuition for all. My father left the mill village to become a lawyer and politican. He left the comforts of simple country cooking for flashier pastures. With his career, he travelled around the world. He got exposed to things his parents would never have even read about. Living in DC, he acquired new tastes, and had to learn how to cook for himself when my mother and I had to move home permenantly for me to attend school. Once we moved, Saturday night became steak night and usually my parents would teach me about wine allowing me a small goblet. When my parents got divorced a few years later, my father retired from the public eye to practice law. He also had to start cooking for himself. My Dad died earlier this year but he lives on in my kitchen. My best memories of him are surrounded by food. His travel spawned a love for food, and he always said his do-over would be to open a small restaurant that he and I could do together. In a way, he sort of did. He entertained regularly. He and I would shop for and prepare foods for friends every single weekend. We had similar ideas, and as his health declined, he had to trust me to fix whatever he requested to his specs. I took over alot of cooking the last year of his life, and still feed my noncooking stepmother once a week. His tastes ran from champagne to Pabst and my repertoire reflects that influence. I am equally at ease making a dish with hollandaise as I am with pan gravy. You know how they say a deceased person lives onn the heart? Sometimes I believe my Dad lives on in my kitchen.
Okay. We have covered the family influence. Where does that leave me and independant thought? I love food. The act of selecting materials, manipulating tastes, and serving it to someone is near religion to me. I left teaching with something missing in my soul. I found it my first day of school. Not only is culinary school challenging, but it is also a labor of love. It is creating. Unless you are a policy and curriculum director, you don't get alot of creative lattitude in schools.I see parallels between the two professions but a happy tummy is infinitely more rewarding than teaching a child manners in spite of their obnoxious mom. Besides, I have a business involving baked goods safe for allergic individuals, so I still get to do "kid stuff." I think I found a voice in the kitchen and an avenue for my creative thoughts. Realisically, it will be a long time before I have complete creative control (damn those dues!) but with every recipe I learn at work or school, I bring it home, make it my own and then write down what I did. I feel as though I am chipping away on my future with every success and failure. Not once did teaching make me feel like I could "go places" Once, a chef instructor asked us what we wanted to do with our education. I answered "I want to be the best I can be" He smiled. In teaching there is no superlative. In certain circles you may hear how well little insert pretentious family name here did in so and so's class last year, that is not for me. I have been amply praised for my work with kids. I would rater have someone say I make the best insert name of something I can fix well here. I want a reputation for excellence in something other than the fine art of ass kissing. I want people I have never met to call me and request something I make because it is that good. Period. I have no desire to ever be on tv, and if I write a cookbook it will be because someone I know and love wants some formulas. I just want to be the best at something I know I can do unfettered. Something I love to do. I will not profess to be an expert ever. I pledge to evolve as my interests and the public's tastes change. I will also pledge that in the foreseeable future I will leave molecular gastronomy alone. I will remember that passion involves learning and learning involves humility.
Food and I go along way back. In retrospect, I should have taken this whole cooking for cash thing more seriously earlier in life. Second career people are sometimes treated as second class citizens, always late to the party and without a hostess gift. I have met this prejudice before, even though I had spent more time in a kitchen than my accuser. I know I may be a little late to the cooking as a career thing, but I also know who I am and my strengths, weaknesses, and ambitions. I love food and cooking. That is the answer to why me and food. We have all heard to pick something you love to do and work will never feel like work. If that is true, I am setting myself up for permenant vacation.

No comments: