Inspiration

  1. Let me start be saying that great cooks, either professional or home, are made not born.  But why?  What gives someone that drive to learn to cook.  What makes someone say, "I could just boil this and eat it, or I could parboil it, then saute it in butter and it will taste amazing!"  The truth is that there is no easy answer to that.  Every person that has ever put on an apron and taken on the mantle of meal maker has different reasons for why he or she does that.  For some it is personal drive to be the best at what they do.  For others it comes from their past.  For me my love of food and cooking comes from my family.
     

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    Growing up my family was never well off.  We struggled, but I am happy to say that I never lacked in having what I needed.  And I most certainly never went hungry.  But what does all this have to do with the love of food and cooking?  Even through the tough times my parents always found a way to show me and share what it was to eat well.  My parents were very adept at finding things that should have been expensive at less than expensive costs.  It was this ability to obtain fancy foods at a deal that let me experience a full and rich culinary palette from a young age.


    It was because of this that I was able to experience things such as smoked oysters or squid cooked in its own ink.  One of my parents favorite things to do, especially when watching some kind of sporting event, was what they called "botanear".   What this means is to eat a variety of small snacks.  So my mom would reach into the pantry and pull out all the various tins of different morsels she and my dad had collected over time.  She would lay them out on a tray, usually with some crackers and some assortment of cheeses and we would just eat our fill as a family.

    I remember the first time they introduced me to brie.  I had no idea cheese could be so rich and creamy and delicious.  I was only about 6 or 7 years old.  Normally at that age most kids would scoff at the notion of this weird cheese with a hard outside and gooey inside!  But my parents had taught me from an early age that in order to get on in this world you must learn to eat well. And in order to eat well you must try things.  You don't have to like everything you try, but you have to try it first then make up your mind.  So I was already accustomed to trying new and different things.  That first bite was sublime.  OK, at the time I would not have described it as sublime, I would have just said that was super good, but the idea remains the same. 

    It was this exposure form an early age that really opened up my culinary world.  I was used to trying things that for some might be off putting because they were strange.  Food never scared or intimidated me.  This I believe is vital for a chef.  So when I decided that I wanted to go to culinary school I'd like to think I had a small advantage, especially to those who were squeamish.

    Both my mom and dad encouraged me to eat well and try new things.  My mom, however, is the single biggest reason for my love of cooking.  She is the one who first taught me what it meant to turn raw ingredients into something delicious.  She is that one that taught me how to season said ingredients and to just "feel it" when I asked her how much I needed.  She also put up with me when I was staunchly against the use of salt because I thought it made everything salty.  She is the one who could reach into the pantry and pull out three or four random items and make it into an amazing meal with the same ease and skill as an old seasoned chef doing a mystery basket. 


     

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    At first I really wanted to learn how to cook as a practical life skill.  After all, I new I would eventually grow up and have to feed myself.  So when I was about 11 or 12 years old I approached my mom about learning the secrets of the kitchen.   She gladly accepted me as her protege and started showing me about the preparation of food.  Some of the first lessons I remember are that you need to stir your ingredients in the pot, otherwise they will burn even if you have oil in there as well or that you need to patient with your food.  Water does not boil instantly, no matter how much you want it to.  As I referenced earlier seasoning to her was something you just had to have a feel for.  You couldn't measure, you just knew when it was enough or if you needed more spices.  She also taught me some tricks such as if you want to thicken a sauce or soup quickly, add some bread crumbs or that if you over salt that sauce or soup, throw in a chunk of potato to help absorb some of that salt. 

    My mom has a whole catalog of dishes and recipes that she has made a thousand times before.  Some of them were taught to her by grandmother.  Some of them she has learned on her own.  And some she has just come up with on the fly with nothing but her own sense of taste as inspiration.  I'd like to think that I have that same sense in me. I'd like to think that I can come up with appetizing meals on the fly with nothing but a few ingredients and my own ideas as inspiration.  In any case I have my mother to thank for putting me in the kitchen.  Thanks mom for helping me do what I love.  So to all of you preparers of food, you makers of meals, no matter what your inspiration is, I hope it serves you well to help make the best food you can!
     

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  1. tiemu
    Nice story. I hope my children have a similar attitude and enthusiasm to yours.
  2. flipflopgirl
    This tribute to your mom (and family) was just what I needed to lift my spirits this morning.
    Like Nicko I have many great stories about my mom's mother ,"Gma Van", who would spirit me away (to her retreat in a small fishing village on the Texas gulf coast) for weeks at a time to teach me the ways of the kitchen.
    As long as I had bread and meat, eggs and butter I could survive.
    It was those huge fluffy cakes and deep decadent chocolate desserts (cannot leave out her magical bisquits) touched something deep inside my soul.
    Those of us lucky enough to have had this head start into the world of food will always carry around with us a deep respect, not just for the ingredients, but also the gentle hands that taught us how to create love with just a bit of flour and an egg or two, sugar and butter and a healthy shot of vanilla.
    You mentioned your mom's catalog of dishes... is it a true written log of her recipes?
    If not try to sit with her sometime and create one.
    My Gma left this world before I realized how important some things are.
    Again, thanks for this eye spy glimpse into your back story and best wishes for you as you travel your chosen path in life.
    One more thing.
    If at some point you come across a young person that seems lost, take them to your kitchen and pass along this gift that comes with no wrapping or bow.
    If we can make a difference in just one kid then we will have continued a circle started many years before we were invited to enter the kitchen and were shown how to create love.
  3. nicko
    @ChefMannyDLM what a great story thanks for sharing that. I have such fond memories of my Yia Yia (Grandmother) making meatballs or frying fresh eggs in olive oil from the family olive trees. Those experiences at that tender age really do inspire us don't they?