If the saying "You are what you eat" has any certitude to it, then I am a walking antidote. A bulwark of mental insulation, wearing a flak jacket made of things that seduce my gullet. Ladies and gentlemen, in the past week I have had privilege and pleasure of playing chef to appreciative family and friends. Twice in that time I bestirred myself to arise from my semi-slothful existence and cook good things that we shared at the table. Twice I was honored with praise for my efforts, and by the ultimate compliment to any cook: those who ate wanted more.
Such words and a clean plate might give any human the notion that they could be more than amateur at the art of feeding people. Compliments and kind words have a tendency, at least in my case, to make me expansive. I get those urges to create a cookbook, write a food column (which I confess, I'd love to do) or even "can that stuff". There is a little whiff of that aggressive need, glossed with love,---which I suspect fuels more than one star chef ego in this world---to not just feed someone but to make them want to be fed by me. I find this stroking of ego to be energizing and disturbing.
It is a fire that I rapidly bank. I do this in part because I know that being a professional chef is not in the cards for my life. There is a learning curve and investment of effort that circumstances disallow at this time. Plus, I have been led astray more than once in my professional life by ignoring some blind spots in my career vision. I am diligent to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Eating should not be an act of coercion, I believe. Nor should it be method to shore up ones' flagging self-esteem by obligating others to give you praise. Hopefully, I have avoided and will continue to avoid that particular trap. I do like to cook, for myself and for the enjoyment of others, but the real reward should be be in the act itself.
This is my hope. I also confess that my enjoyment, rather, my need to cook is not altogether selfless. This was driven home today upon looking up at the clock with the realization that I had spent almost five hours straight in the kitchen. Five hours, that is, with no worries or anxieties beyond the immediacy of dealing with sharp knives, hot pans and the anticipation of "Will this be good?"
Watching my companions dish up, I knew with honed clarity this simple truth: my cooking in and of itself had been a source of sustenance far beyond the calories it would place in my belly. Chopping, measuring, mixing, stirring...playing with fire in a perfectly acceptable manner...having an idea and following the thread uninterrupted...ah, such joy! To finish the thought and then eat it is a marvelous gift, one that lifts me up from some dark, scary places.
That is, dear readers, my no-so-secret secret. I do enjoy cooking for the delight and company of others. But the deeper reality is that, some days, maybe even most days when I cook...I'm cooking to restore myself. I cook because it is good medicine, for me and for those I love.