Venture back with me if you will to a kitchen in the Southwest and you will see a wee child with one perfectly coiffed ringlet bouncing in a pony tail behind a serious face filled with glee. On this particular occasion, she’s in the kitchen, next to her mother stirring a just set pot of Mexican rice. Its savory aroma fills the air with chicken broth, a dab of onion and bells. They watch as the oil slightly pops sucking the tortilla into it like a lover kissing the mouth of the beloved.
A few years later, the kitchen becomes a place of experimentation. Dishes like apple braised vegetables meet up with tuna surprise. The surprise does not take, the veggies do. She finds a penchant for concocting sweet things and takes home the grand prize for chocolate macaroons from the church’s cook-off.
In high school, she begins delving into an interesting array of jobs including: florist’s assistant, bakery associate, bookstore fiend, features editor, assistant arts & entertainment editor, senior reporter, coffeehouse peon, librarian, PR assistant, intern at the New York Times, waitress, maven of marketing. Somehow the jobs that always draw her for long stints at a time encircle food and hospitality. Even now, she bites back the urge to clear plates when it looks as though guests might be done and not going in for another round. She understands and keenly appreciates the finesse of herb and vegetable, texture and color’s symbiosis in flavor that draws a small sigh of approval unwittingly from the stomach or the satisfied heart.
The stomach is the doorway to culture. Through it, she better understands the language and priorities of the host culture. In all, a complexity fusing with simplicity of “does it taste good?… Have some more.” In a recent four city tour of food shows extraordinaire, she talks infusions of tea with cream for pastries with a top New York pastry chef, both nodding at the smokiness of Lapsang Souchong scenting apricots. She talks beef with DB and learns he has read her blog and restaurant review of his chilli. With all inhibition thrown to the wind, she hams it up with MS and GG.
The sensuality of food cannot be denied. It is intoxicating in its ability to sequester in a moment, one bite commanding absolute focus and a reverence for the nuance and play of flavor.
As an adult, the fun continues unabated. New ingredients (fennel head ferns, microgreens) marry with the familiar (haricot verts, tuna steaks). The kitchen stays warm to tradition and experimentation. Discovery and innovation become the tin gold star stickers for playfulness married with persistence. The 9-to-5 loops in the creative, the culinary, the coming back for another cup. Even in the mad season of dramatic fires, there are people to be fed. Go feed them.