So why do I like to cook?
I had this dream that I was at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter was giving me the allegorical grilling with all the expected questions. But his last question was this – “Looking back on your life, what do you think you’ll miss the most”? I thought for a moment but the answer was really obvious to me. I’ll miss the food. The good food. The food that you remember days after eating it. The food that takes hours of effort for someone to prepare, minutes to consume and a long time to forget.
St. Peter said to me, “Son, you’ll be happy to know there’s no shortage of food here”. We smiled together but for different reasons as they led me away. He called back to me “I hope you know how to cook”.
It is after all heaven for everyone.
There’s something distinctly human in the preparation of food that reaches all the way back through time to the point where Homo Sapiens stopped eating raw food and began the cultural legacy of cooking. It’s implicit in the act of cooking that it is a social venture. It always has been. Today we have abstracted away the major elements of food preparation: we have cook books providing recipes, ingredients in self descriptive packaging, utensils and appliances that reduce the effort of managing the heat needed to cook food, and TV channels devoted to spreading knowledge and inspiration.
Going way back, an entire village was involved in the act of providing food. Hunting meats, gathering vegetables and wood, building hearths, managing fires, loading the spits, cooking, and serving the results required organization and foresight that no other animal on this planet can achieve. These techniques have been passed down through culture and gradually improved. Today we walk into a modern kitchen and conjure up a virtual village with each meal we make. Starting with recipes from our most respected shamans, we consult the “Flavor Bible” for advice on food synergies and practice the techniques we’ve learned from watching the Food Channel.
I say we but most often it is one person, usually a woman, who makes the family meals. For most of my life I accepted this cultural designation and stayed out of the kitchen, venturing in only for brief periods to make breakfast or lunch.
As I get older and contemplate that some day I will no longer be here, I realize that I am missing this fundamental and uniquely human experience. This is why I cook.