my edible love affair
By Erika Farber
I once heard that it is considered "unhealthy" to have a "relationship” with food. I didn't realize what that meant exactly, and to be honest, I was a little worried. So many things in my life have hinged on and around food. Family gatherings, my formal (and sometimes not so formal) education, my career, have all grown from a foundation that was more or less built upon food. I found myself questioning the type of person who didn't have a relationship with it!
By the time I was old enough to help out in the kitchen, a task I'd been impatiently waiting to have bestowed upon me for as long as I could remember, I was so proud and so excited to be handed a paring knife. To not only be entrusted with a sharp, dangerous object, but to assist in the preparation of dinner for my family made my 8-year old self feel so mature. With that trust my confidence grew and by the time I was 13, I had begun experimenting with recipes.
Somewhere at my parents’ house is a picture of me as a teenager in our tiny kitchen in 1988, wearing big blue plastic eyeglasses, a tattered red apron, slouchy beige socks, and a floor length black velvet Jessica McLintock dress with garish lace epaulets. Although horribly embarrassed by the picture at the time, I now recognize that in that moment, I was in a place of unshakable concentration and contentedness.
Then, as now, my kitchen provides me with a sense of adventure and a sense of tranquility all at once. There is a rewarding feeling of starting off with a pile of vegetables, cuts of meat or fish, maybe some cheese, a few eggs, and finding a way to transform them into a delicious meal that barely resembled the ingredients they started off as. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and completion that I’m not always able to achieve in other aspects of my life.
The only time I ever lost the serenity gained from slicing, dicing and sautéing was when I chose to do it for a living. I'd envisioned myself as one of those hard-edged, renegade, tattooed, female chefs, commandeering a kitchen staff of folks from all corners of the world, sniffing and rejecting produce, designing menus, all done with a foul mouth and a slight drinking problem.
While partially true, this lifestyle's appeal had lured the younger me in, but once there, I found the job instead to be thankless and repetitive. I worked "behind the line" but the endless orders coming in relentlessly for hours on end, customers complaining about the temperature of their food or the flavor of the sauce all sucked the joy of cooking right out of me. After 7 years, I decided my career as a line cook was over. And I don't miss it.
The other side of the restaurant business, marketing and special event sales management, was a far more civilized environment. Not only did my hours more closely resemble those of so many friends with "normal" jobs (less than 60 per week) but helping plan and celebrate a wedding, a baby shower - forming life-long memories over a delicious meal - gave me the rewarding feeling I couldn't have achieved in an apron and checked pants. The choice to do something else within the same industry helped to preserve my with food as a healthy and happy one, and allowed cooking to remain something I chose to do for my loved ones.
The years I have been able to spend in close proximity to professional restaurant kitchens has been an ongoing treat for me. It's like being backstage of a hit Broadway musical - everyone wants to see what goes on behind the curtain. Watching the choreographed dance that turns piles of raw ingredients into amazing creations for hundreds of guests, night after night, inspires me. And for all my years with a knife in my hand, I am still amazed by how little I know compared to them. In addition to being their co-worker, I am also a total groupie.
I use the techniques I see them employ while I'm cooking at home. When I have a kitchen meltdown, I just know that sometimes things like this happen, and I am completely resolute. If only I had more faith and were more forgiving in other aspects of my life! For all of the control you strive for in the kitchen - as in life - sometimes, you just never know what’s going to happen. But, you keep moving forward anyway.
Always learning, always evolving. Moments of happiness, moments of sadness. Adventure, surprise! And what a spectacular symphony it can all be! A whiff of cinnamon instantly transports me back into the pastry kitchen at school. The aroma of red chili paste and cilantro frying in sesame oil in a wok reminds me of many home cooked dinners shared with my best friend's Chinese family. A plate of cheese fries with gravy brings me back to high school after-practice snacks, and the much sought-after "poutine" during trips to Montreal as a young woman.
I can't speak for anyone else, but my relationship with food has been one of the most exciting, fulfilling and healthiest relationships that I have ever had, and I look forward to us happily growing old together.