Tuesday, 18 May 2021

What cooking means

Over the last few months, I've watched a number of cooking shows on Netflix. These are generally cooking competition-themed shows featuring regular people passionate about cooking, chefs, chefs with their own restaurants, self-made chefs hoping for their own restaurant and Michelin-starred chefs.

I thoroughly enjoyed Restaurants on the Edge (not a competition show) and recently completed 'The Last Plate' (experienced, accomplished and Michelin-star chefs take on challenges each episode and with pairs getting knocked out each round). 'Million Pound Menu' featured competitors (experienced chefs and regular people who are turning / have turned their love for cooking into their career) aiming to get investors to open their own restaurant.

I gave 'Chef's Table' at try, watching the first episode two nights ago. This show introduces us to cullinary stars from around the world who are redefining gourmet food. The chef featured in episode one, Mashama Bailey, from Georgia, USA, said something that really caught my attention.

She was speaking about her upbringing in this southern State and how her childhood memories were shaped by food. She was speaking about her grandmother - it seems like Mashama spent a lot of time at her grandmother's house. Mashama recalls how her grandmother always had good food on the go. She didn't have much money but she always made sure that she fed her grandchildren well. 

"Through her cooking, she showed us how much she loved us"

What has most struck me about these shows is how very passionate the participants are about cooking and preparing food for other people, even strangers - as in the case of chefs. They plan dishes and menus with ingredients, colours, flavours and textures to delight their guests. Through what they prepare they try to convey a message or to share an experience that they have appreciated and enjoyed.

In our homes, we cook regularly for meals, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even the making of the most simple dish, like soft-boiled eggs with toast soldiers, is an act of caring and nurturing.

When we invite friends or family over for a meal or afternoon tea, we make more of an effort like trying a new dish and adding a dessert. The effort shows that you care for your guests and celebrate that they are with you - in your life and physically present - through the meal that you have prepared.

We also express our caring for others when we make something that we know they love.

When I was travelling a lot in the mid-2000s, I would crave vegetables and salads. My mom knew this and, without fail, my returning-home meal would be rich in fresh, crunchy veg. When my dad visits, he gets to put in his order with me of a meal that he would like me to make for him. That I have prepared something especially for him is affirmation of my care and love - more than any words could say.

The backstory inserts in these shows on each participant are interesting. Across the different programmes, we see how, throughout their lives, memories and experiences are shaped by the foods and meals enjoyed, the people sharing these meals and the people who cooked the meals. Together these develop an interest in cooking and ultimately resulted in the participants being where they are now.

A meal on a plate is so much more than just food because of the person who put it there.

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