Anthony Bourdain (photo courtesy of http://www.travelchannel.com/)
A few months ago, I read Anthony Bourdain's latest book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. It's a collection of food-related, entertaining essays about his life in the restaurant business, his rise from broke line cook to international celebrity and some very strongly worded (to say the least) editorials. After reading the book, I decided to enter the writing contest that Bourdain and his publisher sponsored. The prize winner were announced today: Michael P., with his essay Late Nights, won $10,000 (Bourdain's own money) and will be published in the forward of the paperback edition. Congratulations to Michael and the runners-up for their success. Although I didn't win (well, anything...), my contest entry essay, entitled Creating Meaningful Connections, expresses what I feel about the joys of food, cooking, travel and the importance of creating and sustaining a strong global community, so I decided to share it with my readers. Hey, what with inflation and all, $10,000 is probably over-rated anyway...
A dock-side chef making fresh conch salad to order for international tourists and locals alike, Nassau, Bahamas (photo by Simone Cannon)
Creating Meaningful Connections
Why cook well? To connect ourselves to the world. We cook well to become part of the greater whole. As humans, we need to establish connections, to feel that we have significance and are a part of life, history, culture, society, the Great Culinary Conversation. We need to feel that we are contributing, that we matter. Cooking connects us to the world and humanity like nothing else can. When we cook well, especially when we prepare meals from recipes borrowed from other cultures, even within our own country, we fully immerse ourselves in that culture through the smells, tastes, textures, passions, work and culinary techniques of others. Short of actually traveling to those other cities, countries or periods in history, we come as close as we can to getting a taste of the lives of the fellow members of our human family, both past and present.
Students from Singapore, England, the U.S. and Australia learning to make tofu, Kyoto, Japan (photo by Simone Cannon)
Learning to cook well and especially to appreciate other cuisines is like learning another language; one gains a new soul and a deeper insight into other cultures. We may never be able to meet the people who created and continue to develop those cooking traditions, or travel to their hometowns, but we can experience a glimpse of their culture and learn their history and influences through their food. We learn that we have many more similarities than differences; we connect to the global community. In developing our own recipes and sharing them with others, we enter a cultural and culinary dialogue and, in doing so, carve out a piece of history for ourselves. Cooking well reinforces our identity, our existence. It assures us that we are fully alive and making a meaningful contribution both to ourselves and to our world by living and cooking as well as we can.
A true global mix: two Americans and a Venezuelan enjoying Thai and Cambodian food in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cooking well connects us to the past by transcending time and space. It opens a window that allows us to travel through time when preparing traditional recipes and to understand a little better the lives and trials of others that have cooked before us. It connects us to family and friends long gone or far away. Grandparents, parents and old friends can reconnect, at least for a while, by filling their kitchens with the spirit of loved ones through the warm and comforting smells of their cakes, soups and roast meats. It helps us relive our most memorable and important moments, while honoring their memory. Trips, celebrations, cozy afternoons are relived through our sense of taste and smell, the strongest connectors to memory.
A riverside cook preparing freshly-caught fish for ceviche, Maturin, Venezuela (photo by Simone Cannon)
Finally, to cook well shows respect for ourselves, our family, our extended community and our food. We connect with other adventurous people who love to cook, experiment and take chances. By cooking well, we show respect for those who work hard producing our food, we open ourselves up to new experiences, we reconnect with those who are continually striving to improve and appreciate excellent food and we take responsibility for improving the quality of life of everyone who connects with us.
Kangaroo burgers and other regional fare in Cairns, Australia near The Great Barrier Reef (photo by Simone Cannon)