So, on a Saturday afternoon, my family set up a mock restaurant in our Colorado basement. A card table was dressed with a table cloth, candles, and our nicest wares. Meanwhile, Jeff and his buddy prepared a multi-course meal complete with a printed menu.
One of my earliest memories making food is from my older brother’s high school prom night. Instead of going out to dinner, my brother Jeff and his friend decided to cook dinner for their prom dates.
My role for the evening was to be the waiter 🤵🏾. As an eleven-year-old donning black slacks, a white dress shirt, and a bow tie, I showed the two couples to their table, served drinks, and brought out course after course.
As the group polished off their mains (shrimp linguine), my mother prepared her strawberry crêpes for dessert. She asked if I would assemble and plate the crêpes. So with her guidance, I rolled each thin crêpe around spoonfuls of strawberry compote and sporadically drizzled melted chocolate on top.
“Good job, Kiwi,” my mother said as I put the finishing touches on our final course. As of that moment, I felt like her plating specialist. I contributed to the dish. I helped make that fancy dessert. I helped make the food.
Crêpes were served, and our dinner guests left for the dance. While cleaning up, I found a $20 tip on the table.
My journey making food started with my mom delegating kitchen tasks.
From plating crêpes to rolling California rolls to frying chả giò (Vietnamese spring rolls), I helped with certain dishes on certain occasions growing up.
Living on my own in college was a turning point. Making food became my responsibility. I had to feed myself, and I welcomed it. I made extravagant Super Bowl weekend breakfasts with my crew, compared chicken enchilada recipes with my roommate Sean, and delivered homemade chili to a girl whom I never conjured the courage to share my true feelings with.
New friendships were sealed over Wednesday yellow-shell taco nights at my apartment. I called home to catch up with mom and ask about her coconut chicken curry recipe. And, there was that sweaty summer day when Yoko and I took a crack at homemade hot wings after we started dating.
“If you could eat anything right now, what would you eat?”
I ask that question to my (now) partner, Yoko, almost every night before we fall asleep. 90% of the time she answers, “Ramen.” Meanwhile, I spout off new foods we might bring to life in our kitchen: tamales, saag paneer, lasagna, elote, spam musubi, pizza, bánh xèo…
When Yoko and I cook together, I joke that we move in the kitchen “like a dance.” (Pronounced: “like a dawnnnncee.”) She typically chops. I run the stovetop. Our limbs weave quickly in and out and around each other as we grab utensils, add ingredients, and season our food.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the term “Flow.” He describes flow as:
“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
If that’s flow, then flow for me is making food. Whether frying eggs in the morning or heating casserole stew at night, I never regret making time to make food.
“No one in the world has ever eaten this before.”
Sometimes when I sit down to eat, I reflect on the distinctness of enjoying that food in that moment. No one has ever eaten a dish with precisely this many grains of rice, this many granules of salt, and all of these other ingredients in their exact quantities.
Every once in awhile, I do think our kitchen produces a legitimate, first-of-its-kind meal. Has anyone else made Aachar Parmesan Popcorn (Aacharmesan™)? Or a hot dog pizza with sesame seeds on the crust (like a bagel)?
There’s endless creative potential with cooking. On top of that, making food is impermanent. You make it. You serve it. You eat it.
Hopefully what’s left is a meal worth remembering.
Song: Hello Mr. Prince by Otis McDonald