Cooking Well Means Cooking from the Heart

  • Kristen P.

    Rank #35 of 1949

    Votes: 1096

    About my essay:

    My grandfather, an improbable gourmet, cooked well because he cooked from the heart. He passed this skill along to me, so that I could cook well for my own daughter. 

I ask a dozen of my friends the question “What does it mean to cook well?” In response, I get just as many answers. Among them, “learning proper technique,” “understanding flavor,” and perhaps my favorite, “knowing your food.” (Have you tried to commune with a pork chop? The Barbers at Blue Hill may be able to do it, but in my experience it is a one-sided effort.)   All of these answers are true in degrees, but the one that speaks most strongly to me is the one I learned decades ago: cooking well means cooking from the heart.   My grandfather, like many in his generation, was drafted to the Army, and given the choice between two positions. He chose “cook” over “bombardier.” The US Government taught him the skill.   My mother jokes that in grade school, during show and tell, other classmates would bring in Japanese flags and German helmets, amazing artifacts from across the sea. Her face would burn knowing the only souvenir my grandfather could share was his spatula.   But that spatula in Nick’s hand is one of my first, most vivid memories. I’d climb the fifty steps to his place and even before I'd reached the top, I’d smell it. Familiar, enveloping, unlike anything else—the smell of his cooking. It made my whole brain hum with contentment. It said, “Sit. Relax. You’re home.”   I’d rest at his table and see him recreating his own mother’s meals--eggplant pressed under heavy pots, bacala soaking in water. . . but his greatest effort was saved for the tomatoes.   Every August, he’d select the best from the market, cook and process them through the hand-cranked food mill that now resides in my cupboard. Without air conditioning, he’d nearly dehydrate from the heat, but surrender was no option until every last Ball jar was full, a leaf of basil lain gently over the top.   Months later, he’d use those jars in his sauce, which I would unfailingly request for my birthday.   I can still taste it, the sauce, and recently I came across another so similar, its aroma alone nearly brought me to tears. Eating it, all I could think of was Nick and the time we spent together-- and the safety I felt with him, and the love.   Why? Because his food was a gift he gave. He made it from the heart. My grandfather, he cooked well.   I make Nick’s sauce for my own little girl. When she enjoys it, I understand every bit of Nick’s effort. I’m not just feeding my daughter, I’m sparking synapses, creating memories and connections that will last long after my own spatula and I are gone.   Cooking well means building an edible history, a communion across generations that my girl, too, will pass on, allowing just a bit of me, and my grandfather, into the future. 

comments

Gerald S.:

Kristen P. is a very talented writer.  I would not be surprised if she is a published author or a high level editor.  She packed a lot of story and feeling into this short piece.

July 7, 2010 Report Abuse
Kristen P.:

Thank you! It was hard getting all of that into 500 words! 

July 7, 2010 Report Abuse
Annette P.:

I agree with Gerald S' comment.  Kristen P's writing talent is quite evident in this wonderful, heartwarming essay.

July 7, 2010 Report Abuse
Adrienne F.:
I so whish I could have had dinner at your Grandfather's. Instand synapse for me. Great jog. Adrienne F July 10, 2010 Report Abuse
Ellen B.:

A beautiful story, skillfully written.  Thank you for sharing.

July 12, 2010 Report Abuse
Kristen P.:

Thanks Adrienne and Ellen!! It makes me so happy to think that people are enjoying my essay!

July 12, 2010 Report Abuse
Julianne R.:

We must be related!  isn't this just so much fun?  The memories that all this cooking conjurs up is amazing. And when my whole family gets together, we eat good, probably too much.  We aren't built with a Bourdain metabolism! We remember the foods that our grandmother or our Dad loved to cook and we love to share.  I travel for business.  One of the things I loved to do was share the flavors from the various places I visited.  it isn't fair to just talk about it. I was in Germany at the peak of asperagus season, so several different dishes all made it to the table when I got home.  Another time, I stopped on my way home from a trip to New Orleans to buy fresh oysters, cornmeal, greens and buttermilk for fried oyster salads.  I even brought home all the ingredients for a classic Irish breakfast when I flew home from Ireland.  It's so much fun to share these things.

July 29, 2010 Report Abuse
Gerald S.:

Cooking Well Means Cooking From The Heart by Kristen P. shows how good cooking links families from generation to generation.  Good work, Kristen P.!

July 29, 2010 Report Abuse
Kristen P.:
Thank you for the comments! Julianne, I also love to come home from my travels with new ideas and recipes, and of course, to share them with those I love. Gerald, you are exactly right. Family, not just food, is made in the kitchen. August 1, 2010 Report Abuse
Charlotte G.:

Ball jars!!!! As a tiny child, I remember lying in my bed on hot summer nights listening to the pops as the tomatoes that my Grandmother had canned earlier in the day sealed. What a lovely memory!  

August 1, 2010 Report Abuse