I remember dew clinging to pastel green stalks of asparagus, and climbing through overgrown patches of field to keep up with mommom. I remember her thin hands holding onto an old, wooden handled paring knife, and the snap of a stalk being cut. Rustles of an apron holding a small harvest. I can hear her alto voice telling me that if you didn’t cut the stalks soon enough, didn’t keep the crop down, they would go to seed and then we’d “have to deal with asparagus ending up all over this place”.
My sister and I would sit down with my mom and grandmother; windows cracked, curtains going back and forth, as if they were breathing in that fresh spring air, and we would eat the creamed asparagus on toast my mom had made. I remember it best when it was made with what mommom and I had gathered on the same day. Following my grandmother around that little patch of green asparagus, watching her pluck bright yellow forsythias, and walking around the clouds of pinkish white apple blossoms, are some of my fondest memories.
The majority of my memories are so tightly intertwined with food, that it’s no surprise what field I’m in. The echos that linger around certain dishes, the fact that particular ingredients evoke aromas from when I was ten – that is what I love about food, and cooking. Making my own version of creamed asparagus on toast for my boyfriend and I in our warm, cozy, apartment, but having it remind me of an airy country kitchen and orchards, is what grounds me.
There will be so many times as of late, where I’ll be preparing a certain ingredient, and be rushed back to a different experience. Chestnuts make me think of when I would clumsily mimic my mom, and how she could pry open the prickly, needled outerlayer with her boots in the Autumn. Sweet, plump peaches bring the scent of her cobbler and summer nights to me. They make me homesick in the sweetest way.
That’s what I want to share with people. That’s what motivates me to find my place in this career field. To infuse food with those memories and feelings, to invoke something within the person eating my food. Garner a reaction and an emotion, something tangible hooking onto the emotional and mental. Reeling people into the experience of what the plate is, not just the flat, one-note, means to satiation, version of it.
That simple dish, with few ingredients, represents so many things. The type of food I want to master (simple), the voice I want to speak with (comforting), and the life I want to find, explore, live, and share (humble). I wish I was better at a lot of things, like working small and neat, my fine brunois, consommes and omelets. I want to be better at sentimentality the most though, and the translation of it onto a palette. Isn’t that what being a chef is about? Learning the language of food, and being the translator between farm and plate.
I think that may be the important distinction between chefs that are satisfied and truly happy in their lives, versus chefs that are constantly grasping towards pride. The intention, the foundation of what they’ve chosen to do. I am a superficial person in a lot of ways…I want validation through praise, congratulatory voices, and admiration of peers. The vain aspect of the culinary world sneaks in and poisons the efforts of what I do too often – the hide-away holes and corners that are all about an image.
Hopefully I can work past that, and do certain people proud, doing the best I can with the passion I was dealt. Hopefully I can always remember that patch of asparagus, orchards of apple trees, and thin hands snapping off the evenings supper. Those images, fragrances, and sounds whispering in and out, making sure time is taken with each turnip I wash, or sauce I reduce. Story, story, story, taste, taste, taste. That’s what it’s about.