Finding your passion is akin to finding love. Sometimes passion finds us when we’re young, and other times the road may be long and arduous. But when it happens, it seems it’s almost instant. You can’t tiptoe into your passion. Much like love, you have to fall into it.
Since the invention of fire, humans quickly learned that food can have a different profile, orientation, and taste when induced with heat. Cooking is more than sustenance. Just as the singer sings, the poet writes, and the carpenter builds, cooking is where the mind, body, and soul work in unison to create deep and rich flavors. It’s alchemy of the highest degree, where senses marry the taste buds with pleasure receptors in the mind. It’s serotonin serendipity.
The cook is the maestro, cooking is the symphony, and the flavors are the instruments. Each flavor plays intricate melodies that directly bring us joy, happiness, and perhaps the best case scenario, evoke a fond memory.
I’m not sure how cooking found me, but I’ll recount a few memories from the past that are faintly redolent. Perhaps these memories might move you to fall into your passion.
Without sounding preachy, the more I learn about Life, the fewer beliefs I have in an afterlife. I know I’ll die, so I can only live this moment now. Everything is more urgent because it’s ending — and so I cook, write, and make a noble attempt at making every moment as impactful as I can.
Much like cooking, I’m not as much attached to the destination of how a dish will turn out. I’m more interested in the process, because if every step is done carefully, mindfully, and with love, then the deliciousness of the final presentation has already been predetermined.
A Simple Dish
Home has always been my mother’s cooking. Every day after school, I had the pleasure of coming home to delicious food. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how good I had it. While other kids had Lunchables, Gushers, and Capri-Suns, I had Indian food. It was usually fried eggs and onions rolled up in a wheat tortilla like blanket called roti. I’ll admit, I’d eat in the corner of the cafeteria because it didn’t fit in with the social unspoken lunch rules that are transcribed in invisible ink within the hollow halls of 2nd grade, but nonetheless, every bite was savored and delicious. It was so good that I always wanted to share, but was afraid of ridicule and the possibility of contempt from my velcro wearing peers.
I was foolish. In any case, roti and eggs may seem unassuming and not extravagant. After all, it’s just wheat with water and a fried egg, but then again, is it? This simple concoction which is eaten by countless East Indians, came from the invention of fire, wheat from the evolution of agriculture, and the egg from domestication of chickens. Not just this dish, but many from around the world only come into existence through thousands of years of history.
Cooking as a Necessity
I didn’t fall in love with my mother's food until I had to start cooking for myself. It’s how I started cooking East Indian food 5-years ago. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. There I was. In her kitchen with ingredients laid out. My mother wasn’t very methodical or organized with food preparation. She kind of improvised her cooking, sort of like jazz. From her, I learned the importance of constantly tasting the food while cooking, trying out different spice variations, and taking a chance to make unrelated ingredients work in harmony. She brought out the artist’s touch in food. Cooking was cataclysmic chaos created out of curiosity. Alliteration aside, it was simply DELICIOUS!
The Food Network
I loved the Food Network and PBS. Julia Child, Chef Martin Yan of “Yan Can Cook”, Barefoot Contessa, Rachel Ray, Mario Batali, Jacque Pepin, Emeril Lagasse, Gordon Ramsay, and Guy Fieri have been influential in my love for food. They were characters that had the uncanny ability to connect with others in a fun and meaningful way. Their personalities created foodie harmony that could only be captured in the moment, or in my case, a later taping. They were fun, jovial and positive. I learned how to julienne carrots, make a proper stock, and make the perfect omelet. Personally, I prefer a french omelet, but the classic is a classic for a reason.
When Bourdain’s first show, A Cooks Tour aired, it was the antithesis of positive. It was real, rugged, no frills, culture shocking to the highest magnitude. He went to different parts of the world, really got to know people, their history, and most importantly, their food. It was honest and real. It wasn’t your typical show. Bourdain had a dark personality that comes only of a man that has learned too much about the fucked up shit the world can offer and how food can be a counterpoint to connection. It was entertaining, thought-provoking, and exciting. His later shows, No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, all provided the same candor.
It was because of his show that I was able to connect with different people of the world. It has come in handy during my travels, work, school, and even spur of the moment conversations with strangers. You name a region in the world and I can guarantee I know their most popular dish. Whether it was Bun Cha from Hanoi, Ají de Gallina from Peru, Blanquette De Veau from France, or how the Inuit eat raw seal family-style on the kitchen floor — learning about another’s culture through food was fun, interesting, and helped me relate to the world.
Food as History
Through time, every culture/tribe builds its own traditions. These traditions are not only bound by religion, language, and customs, but also food. And it’s through food, the breaking of bread, the toasting of wine, the guzzling of beer, the grilling of meats, and the simmering of curries, that one human can look at another human from a different part of the world and say, “you ain’t that different from me.”
A taco isn’t only an excellent vehicle for holding meats, cheeses, veggies, and sauces, but when a vendor hands you a taco, she is speaking her entire past and the past of her ancestors. With every bite, you are eating a piece of history and making it your own. This can be said about all cultures.
What’s on our plate is more than just food. It’s history. It’s the stories told in morsels of goodness. It’s the blood, sweat, and tears of hardship, slavery, degradation, triumph, tyranny, conquest, discoveries of uncharted lands, and the commerce between countries.
Food as Love
Love is something you give with no qualms or rules, and that’s how I feel about cooking. It’s something I know I’m great at, and perhaps it’s because greatness is derived in serving others. In my book, there is no higher purpose.