I even ponder on the moments in restaurants when I taste my food and automatically know what’s in it. I pride myself in knowing my vegetables and my seasonings. And then after that third bite, I already have tomorrow’s lunch menu in mind. At this point, I’m eating slower to be sure I have a good amount of food left over to create the remixed meal that’s formulating in my head.
Once in the kitchen, I feel like Remy in Ratatouille once Linguini puts him in his hat. The magic just unfolds. The beauty in it all is that the food perfectly positioned on the counter is just the guide. Even the leftovers are just a guide. The true magic happens after that first taste. The initial spoonful of the premature creation sets the tone for the meal. It lets me know how I’m feeling. For instance, if I’m feeling like I’m back in Miami, I’ll give it a savory kick. Or maybe if I’m in Cali, I can turn it into a clean, fresh feel. Sometimes it’s a simple meal where my personal seasoning blend will suffice. Either way, it’s my time to create.
Cooking for me is a bit deeper than most, I reckon. It’s the journey of history and the expectancy of the future. I remember watching my paternal grandmother in the kitchen. Every bit of Waycross, Georgia resided in her kitchen. Her love, her perseverance and especially her presentation was announced in every meal she prepared. A simple turkey and cheese sandwich was transformed into layers of Granny’s talks and lessons.
The BEST lunch days were the ones that had that secret note from Granny reminding me that she loved me and that I was amazing. And you best not have a bite until you’ve prayed. Granny’s meals were lessons—a lesson from a loved one wrapped with a hug encompassed by a brown paper bag.
When I cook, I think of her. I was the youngest grandbaby and that was our thing. I didn’t like or listen to most adults. But Granny, I dare not oblige. She was this little woman, with a strength beyond words and wisdom applicable to every situation. She was of few words, but my goodness, were those words mighty! My world stopped when she passed. Like when Beyoncé stated, “World Stop,” in the song “Feeling Myself.” My “Carry On” was delayed, but eventually it happened in the kitchen.
When I say delayed, I mean delayed. I had to learn that cooking was my gift. And like all gifts, not everyone was deserving. I remember the times I blew a gasket over being asked to fix a bowl of cereal for the wrong recipient and the times where I made homemade lasagna for a fleeting love interest. And like most good meals, a marinade was necessary. I had to marinade. I had to deal with pain, deal with life and most importantly deal with myself. I had to love myself so I could effectively share that love.
The thing about love (like any excellent thing) is that it’s mostly unpacked in the process. The journey. The acknowledgment that some days are better than others. The acceptance that some things are out of your control. The patience in knowing some foods have to come out of the oven and rest before serving. I’m still sitting on the cooling rack like any good steak.
Similar to a great thing in a process, reflection is necessary. I see a lot of areas I need to marinade on and some areas that are headed straight to the trash. I taste when something is off. I smell when something is spoiled. And I see when something is right.
I’ve learned that some things need no words. I just take my portion away. And in those beautiful moments when I can add, I do. I add seafood. I add peppers. I add grains. I add me.
And honestly, I am the best ingredient. With me comes Granny, Pops, Momma, my brothers, my aunts, my friends and all of my experiences.
Cooking is my passion. So, to receive a meal from me is to have a piece of me. It’s to learn my essence and to allow me to love and heal on you.