My obsession with food began young. In my household, we loved eating in restaurants and trying new recipes, The Food Network was our standard channel on the television, showing us my mother’s long-lost sister, Ina Garten, cook perfection in her Connecticut home, I would go to the library and from the ages of ten to 14 and raid the magazine section of every Bon Appetit magazine, consuming the words of Barbara Fairchild with the appetite of someone much older than my years. I would use words like “braise,” “emulsify,” and “caramelize” in front of contemporaries raised in a Pop-Tart culture, who would stare at me with awe or confusion. But I loved it. I loved the comfort of cooking and being in environments that enabled my unending hunger for food to be satisfied.
Yet, I know my limitations. I know that as much as I love baking and cooking, I could never be a professional chef. I move painfully slow, my timing is atrocious (everybody whose forgotten to preheat the oven or defrost the chicken, raise your hand) and I sometimes I view baking instructions the same way my dad views yellow lights: mere suggestions. In spite of this, I still love it, I see it as my chance to relax, reconnect, and recharge; most satisfying of all is when I get to feed others.
This year was my first year of college away from home, and in the first week I had signed up to run the Sabbath school breakfast and bake for the hurricane Irma bake sale. For three days it was me alone in the very large church kitchen blasting "Feel It Still" by Portugal. The Man, stewing peaches, making applesauce, and tray after tray of granola. It was overwhelming in the best possible way. I got to feed people, and connect through the love language of food; in a way, it was my commitment to the school and its people. Months later, I made Sabbath lunch for my girlfriends at my friend Allison’s house, with windows open, music playing, and the scent of caramelized onions filling the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite memories and once again, I felt a bond forged with them that allowed me to give back, and satisfy a need.
This year, I wrote an article that told the story of my Bisabuelo and his life. As I was researching and talking to his relatives, they all noted that their favorite memories of him were surrounding food, specifically his immense joy in cooking and eating. He had a ritual after every meal, in which he would slam his hands on the table and loudly proclaim “Today the King has eaten!” then quietly say, “Thanks be to God.” My father inherited this joy for food, developing his own mantra after every Saturday breakfast where he’d cook for his daughters and wife, then say “This is a breakfast of champions!”
From this legacy, I’ve come to believe in the power of soul food, food made with the intention to heal, connect, and comfort. Its that love language that is a form of giving, and transforms the biological need to eat into an expression of artistry and intimacy. In those moments, it doesn’t matter if we have training, if every carrot slice is even, or if we forgot to turn on the stove, what matters is that we are building relationships with those around us, or even just with ourselves. What matters is that we share authentic, raw, love-filled plates of food with those around us, and always leave room for dessert.