Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An academic approach to cooking: Philosophy & Food

Well folks the cat is out of the bag. I'm currently attending Kendall College to obtain my Certificate of Professional Cookery. No, I don't really think that I want to work the line in a restaurant. No, I don't think this will change my day job. But damn do I hope it makes me one hell of a dinner party host.

My plan had been to wait until near retirement for this bucket-list-pursuit. But as I've been reminded lately, life is too short for waiting later in life to pursue what you love and, as un-American as it sounds, maybe it's ok to throw money and time and energy at something just because you love it and not because it's going to take you to the right career path. I am interested in developing myself as a passionate, interesting person, which sometimes can include, but does not always include the diligent, focused worker. So there.

This weeks assignment in Stocks, Soups & Sauces was "write about your Philosophy of Food." Period. Chef Pollin gave us little direction when he simply added, "you know, I jus laiike to 'ear about what it eez zat makes you want to cuuk." So here goes.

I am passionate about food because I am passionate about taste.  Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin says in The Physiology of Taste, “taste invites us, by arousing our pleasure, to repair the constant losses which we suffer through our physical existence.  [And] it helps us to choose from the variety of substances which Nature presents to us those which are best adapted to nourish us.”  For me, the taste of food, the experience that happens when we taste food drives me too cook, to seek out new adventures in taste, to store memories in a way that flavor is what marks time and keeps me in place and drives me to new places. 
Food in our culture is often abused as it is such a comfort for when we feel pain.  Brillat-Savarin is right when he says that taste repairs losses.  The concept of comfort food itself validates this.  For me there is a place in my brain where I store memories of taste and most frequently those flavors are tied to an emotion.  The taste of asparagus brings me to the early green shoots of daffodils poking their way up on a dreary April morning.  The taste of a hearty stew reminds me of coming home from college to a supportive, encouraging mom.  The taste of peppery goat cheese sends me straight to a garden in the Loire Valley where I ate the best cheese I ever had on a drizzly afternoon sitting under a pine tree.  It is through taste that I can recall my life and mark time through the flavors of seasons. 
Taste has an incredible forward-moving component to it as well.  As a thrill seeker and adventurer, I likewise am always on the hunt for a new taste.  Being passionate about food means you are always after something just a little bit different, just a little bit better than the last dish you created.  As I find new flavors, I think about layering and combining flavors and textures in a new way, playing with those combinations in my head.  The crave of taste has lately brought me to farmers markets and to raising chickens in my back yard.  It has begun playing a formative role for my hobbies and interests, much to my surprise and delight. 
Food is my medium for showing people that I care about them as I provide a space and a carrier for them to hold good memories.  Through sharing food and the experience of taste, I think we share one of the most fundamental acts of being human: feeding ourselves.  Through this nourishment, we do repair the ‘losses of physical existence’ and in so doing, create a lasting bond between ourselves and those we eat with.   

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