My partner Neko, wants to become a chef. Funny thing is we met in grad school studying photography. Throughout the 7 years we’ve known each other, Neko would periodically proclaim, “I should’ve gone to culinary school!” all the while cooking an amazing meal. I wasn’t sure that was going to be a thing til this summer once we got back from the very delicious country of Thailand. Neko came to me one day in June and said, “I’m going to New York to learn everything I can from Laurel” a close friend of ours and head chef in upstate New York.
We arrived late July, just in time for more weather reminiscent of Thailand’s wet season and no return ticket in hand. While we were there I watched friendships being built, creativity expressed fully and a flood of happy hormones as I got to taste-test all the wonderful meals they brought to the table, literally. We often discuss how food brings people together but there’s something to be said about being in the presence of 4 chefs in the kitchen that lets you know you’re witnessing magic in the making. They all speak the same language, are equally as passionate but each approach food very differently. While one may be avant-garde with her platings, the other wants to produce the best of the best of the classics.
After 3 weeks on the east coast, real life beckoned and I had to get back to work. In the days following, Neko was cooking up a storm! Those garde-manger skills really made their way home and into my belly in the form of salads, sides and desserts. We even threw a bbq where Neko debuted her salmon ceviche in coconut milk paired with a honey and tajin infused mezcal cocktail. Needless to say I’ve been spoiled lately but I pull my weight with baked goods.
I’m the baker in this outfit. Something about precise measurements and exact temperatures really engage my inner sweet-loving scientist. So every now and then I make a big production and bake whatever Neko asks for, from cornbread, to pound cake, to cookies. This time it was bread from scratch. We had recently watched Michael Pollan’s Cooked episode about bread and were both touched and inspired by how bread is a symbol for family and togetherness across the world. Just the scent of fresh baked bread can trigger some of my warmest memories of childhood and that is why I love to bake. Like my parents and my uncle Gene, I want to be the person who triggers and creates those same warm memories for others.
The three of them have always had an unspoken baker’s challenge or competition with each other and I’d like to think, having the biggest sweet tooth ever, I was nominated as the judge back when I was kid. The story goes that they all started with the same recipes back in the 1970’s, but each contender of the secret bake-off has been customizing those same recipes over the last 40 years so the end result is never the same. One of their favorite recipes is carrot cake, and when they bake one, they each come up with reasons to suddenly stop by for a visit, piece of cake in hand, ready to share. If I’m there, I get in on the action, sweet-tooth satiated for a brief moment, then one of them leans over and whispers, “he put too much sugar in it” or “she baked it for too long” as they stuff more cake in their mouths. But in all fairness, the bottom line is that they each took the time to bake something with love and the intention to share it with others, and that’s what food is all about.
So next time you find yourself heading for the drive thru, turn around and go to the grocery store. By buying your own ingredients, you get to customize your meal and you know exactly what went into your food. Appreciate the beauty in the shared experience of cooking together or even cooking for a loved one as a kind gesture, instead of a chore. Cooking for one? No problem. Consider this an exercise in treating yourself well. On that note, who wants seconds?