Making Friends With Cooking
I was raised by a single mom who worked long hours. Neither of us had time to cook, so dinner was often a Lean Cuisine microwave dinner with a generous bowl of ice cream for dessert.
I’ve always loved gathering around food—in restaurants, at parties or entertaining at home. But it never crossed my mind that I could actually learn to cook. Now, with a son in high school and a daughter off at college, my time is more my own. Could I discover my inner chef?
In the past, generations of family lived together; women learned recipes from their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Lacking this rich history in my past, I decided to seek out a friend who loved to cook, and create my own kitchen family.
It was early spring when Carroll met me at St. Stephen’s Farmers Market, one of few open after Richmond’s recent snow. I had decided to host a dinner party for eight, and she advised me to choose a menu based on local, in-season ingredients. We waltzed along tables of fresh eggs, meats and produce—ingredients I had always loved seeing and holding but never felt sure how to cook.
When it was time to cook, Carroll arrived at my house armed with her Le Creuset Dutch oven and sharpest Japanese knife, as excited to share her love of cooking as I was to learn. Carroll knew that my cookbook collection consisted of titles like Five Ingredients or Less, and she patiently walked me through the many steps of classic Beef Bourguignon.
At first I was afraid to handle Carroll’s sharp Miyabi blade, but she taught me that sharp knives are actually safest. She showed me how to pinch the giant blade at the end instead of holding the handle. I loved the feel of crushing garlic with the flat of the blade to loosen the skin, then mincing it into tiny pieces. “The recipe calls for cloves, not pods,” Carroll said, laughing with me as I was about to overdose the stew with garlic.
As we trimmed fat, diced bacon, seared beef, sautéed mushrooms and sliced carrots on the diagonal, Carroll gently imparted knowledge not found in the recipe. Layers of aromas mingled as we happily talked and braised our way through the afternoon. It was fun to learn this way, while catching up on kids and spring break plans. I imagined this is what it would have been like to cook with family—mom, grandma, sisters and aunts laughing in the kitchen, making it a party instead of a chore.
My main course, served over mashed potatoes, was a blockbuster. I appreciated the layers of flavor as they mingled on my tongue and the joy of having nurtured the food that then nurtured my friends. At last, I felt like a real chef! All thanks to Carroll, a friend who taught me that people who love food also enjoy sharing their love of food. Mom would have savored every bite.
--this article was excerpted from Edible Richmond May/June 2015.