EATING LOCAL - Sharing the kitchen keeps family cooking

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Growing up, my sister and I were always encouraged into the kitchen to help with meals and create our own unique style.

We started out making simple cinnamon sugar dough balls out of leftover pie crust and moved on to create our own signature dishes, such as my Beems syrup and my sister's Flange pizza.

As we got older, we would put on special meal events for our parents, playing the parts of server, performer and chef, with fake accents and costumes to match. When I think back, I have fond memories of growing up in the kitchen.

But unlike my experience, my husband doesn't have such sweet memories. He was discouraged from taking part in kitchen activities.

When he would attempt to create a dish, his father would take one look, tell him it's wrong and take over. It took my husband a really long time to gain that kitchen confidence back after years of "getting it wrong."

Now he's making dinner on the nights I work, preparing fresh homemade food for everyone and really enjoying it. He even mentioned the other day the idea of making it his career, and asked me what I thought.

I sat in thought for a long moment before speaking. As a chef, or even lead cook in the house, we all have a certain way we go about the job.

Each of us has our own individual ways of making a dish and setting up our own kitchen work space. And it's very personal, especially if it's something we take seriously. It becomes part of our ego.

A perfect example of that ego happened at work this last week. We had an additional person helping out in the kitchen during service. It was someone I had never worked with before, so we hadn't set up a protocol yet.

As the dinner rush hit, the kitchen got a little crazy and we were tripping over each other, each making the same dish and not communicating.

Trying to help expedite the plates going out, I added the crackers onto the cheese plate being made. The person making the plate took some of the crackers off and rearranged them.

I was very put off. How rude, I thought to myself. What kind of person would so casually feel the right to change the way I did it?

I carried that feeling around with me the rest of the night, hoping I would never have to work with that person again.

Then it came to me. Who do I think I am? And what gives me the right to think my way is the only way? In a way, I was being just like my father-in-law, judging and taking over.

There is room in any kitchen, no matter how big or small, for everyone. If someone wants to get involved in the kitchen, encourage and welcome them.

If you are short on time and the meal needs to be on the table quickly, consider giving them an easy task like washing the salad.

Meal preparing and cooking are so much more fun to do together, but it may require a little letting go of the ego. We need to each find our own way in the kitchen and on our culinary journeys, and it takes love and encouragement from those seasoned cooks in our lives to help guide us.

There are a lot of different ways to make a dish, all equally delicious and beautiful.

We all need to eat, and having the knowledge and skills to prepare our own food is priceless. Yet more and more these days, people only eat out.

With obesity and food-related health issues on the rise, we all need to make a return to the kitchen, preparing our own meals from scratch, using ingredients in their whole natural forms.

Not only is it delicious and oh-so-good-for-you, you know exactly what's in it. There is a satisfaction in the act of preparing your own meals and we are teaching the next generation the importance of cooking for ourselves.

I don't know a more essential or revolutionary act than that.

Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition, specializes in natural foods. She can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.

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