TL:DR Food can evoke some of the strongest memories and emotions buried deep in our minds and it can happen whenever we want.
The other night I found myself crying after a dream. This was a very unusual circumstance considering two things: 1) I rarely dream and 2) I rarely cry. This was different though. They weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of joy, over food.
Now, I don’t know if this was combination of binge watching Parts Unknown and also practicing intermittent fasting, but I had a very vivid dream about being in a random diner in the middle of Montana with the man himself, Anthony Bourdain, about to chow down on some diner food. What caused my sudden breakdown in the dream was taking the first bite of a salad that looked to have been something like iceberg lettuce and ranch. (Side note: how do I remember this? because after I woke up I wrote down all the details I could remember so that I can recount it for all of you in all its absurdity. Ok, back to the dream.) I was so overcome with emotion that I could feel a literal knot in my chest and before I knew it, literal tears were gushing out of my eyes and onto my pillow. I cannot tell you what the actual significance of that dream was or why a basic salad from a diner in the middle of Montana broke me down. What I can tell you is the purity of how food can pull a person into a completely different state of being and transport them to another place in time. Remember that scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego takes one bite of the “peasants dish” and is suddenly transported back to a memory of his mother making the same dish for him after he had fallen off his bike? That type of emotion happens in real life, if you’re lucky.
To add some more evidence to my claim, I once invited a young lady over for dinner and being a classically trained chef, I was in it to impress. She was a foodie so I knew that she would fully appreciate whatever I made for her. In this instance, I made a simple risotto alla Milanese aka risotto with parmesan and saffron. Now if you don’t know how to make a proper risotto then you don’t know one of the very simple pleasures in life. The Italians know what they’re doing and being able to transform rice, stock, and cheese into something that is incredibly decadent and almost sinful, is straight up sorcery. So, I served this young woman my risotto and she took one bite and put the spoon down and started to well up with emotion. There were no words; I could see it in her face. That single bite fulfilled something inside of her that overwhelmed her entire being and until the other night I didn’t know how that felt.
It’s incredible to think that food can have that much of an impact on a person. Just like listening to an old song that brings up memories or give you goose bumps; food can do the same thing. It can transport you back in time to a specific memory and allow you to relive it for all its’ worth. It’s maybe one of the closest things we have to time travel. Sometimes food doesn’t even have to be associated with a memory, it could just be really fucking good, which is a testament to the chef that cooked it. Though, that can be considered the start of a food memory where you can relive that moment.
We take food for granted. In a world of fast food and quick-fix-grab-and-go sustenance, we sometimes fail to actually appreciate the food we eat. We eat to survive, not to enjoy and to do that is sometimes a disservice to the food itself or the technician that manipulates raw products into edible bliss. Some will say that food is meant to bring people together. It’s a means to sit down with other people and enjoy good company and conversation. I think as a culture we have forgotten about the power of sharing a meal with others. Nothing can express more love than sharing a meal when the intent of food is reestablished as nourishment for not only the body, but for the soul. The old rough translation for ‘restaurant’ is ‘restore’ or ‘to restore.’ In every sense, food was meant to restore and revive the body and to produce food was such an ordeal that sharing a feast was nothing short of a celebration of bounty and life.
I think we started to lose our ways in being able to cook during the world wars when industries were manufacturing stable food for the soldiers overseas. When the war was over, these large industries focused their new product on family households taunting at “easy, no-fuss dinners.” If there was ever a point of history I would travel back to and change, it would be the emphasis on getting away from cooking at home. It would be very interesting to see a world that wasn’t steered toward processed foods, but continued the tradition of cooking.
I think more now more than ever, people are coming back to at least seeking out and enjoying amazing food. Certain sites. that I despise but that’s another story, allows you to check out what other people think about a certain restaurant before you go and try it and if it’s got raving reviews then there’s motivation to seek out that meal that might change your life. More and more people are going out of their way to try the best burrito or the best pho or the best ramen or the best cupcake. As a chef, this is so exciting. I decided to become a chef for two reasons. The first is because I absolutely enjoy the rush that comes from the organized chaos of working on a line. The feeling you get when it’s a busy night and you have your mise set and every station is on the top of their game and the kitchen is running on auto pilot like a perfectly oiled machine. At the end of it, you and the rest of your crew celebrate in the accomplishment like you won a battle in an ongoing war. That feeling of accomplishment that comes from stressful near impossible circumstances. The second, is for the emotion that food brings. Every cook that gives a damn, puts their heart and soul into every dish they make. Every sauce, every garnish, every placement of every component is a reflection of that cook. Every so often when that cooks gets to see their work enjoyed with either tears, moans, or applause is sometimes worth the long hours and cuts and burns. At the end of the day, the more love and care you put into a dish, the more it shows. That level of love is so rare now-a-days. You see it at weddings, at child births, and at graduations, but, those types of events happen every so often. The secret though, is that you can experience that same level of love through food, and that kind of emotion and love can happen as often as you want it to. For me, its chicken top ramen and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For you, it can be anything you have a strong happy memory of. Try it, and if not, find a chef that cooks with so much love and passion that you can taste it.