I believe in the power of cooking. I feel a centering force when I chop and sauté, stir and broil.
I’m not certain how it came over me, how I came to enjoy cooking so much. My current professional title of ‘kitchen manager’ has nothing to do with culinary training. My primary culinary instructor was my Kentucky-born mother. Although she balanced married life and her career along with my brother and I, she still insisted on cooking at home as much as possible, and always eating dinner together. At least until my parents divorced and my brother and I hit our teen years. But each weeknight until then, I was her assistant, setting the table, salting the potatoes and buttering the can-popped biscuits before sliding them into the oven. At first I resented having to help when my brother didn’t. My mother told me that someday I’d be glad that I’d learned to cook, but I did not share her outlook.
By middle school age, I had mastered some easy recipes, mostly centered on baking. Cookies, brownies, treats for friends and myself. It wasn’t until I got to college that I took a real interest in cooking. I went to film school and worked on sets with very limited budgets, and the producers were constantly struggling to find a way to feed the crew. Ordering pizza was a mainstay, but got old quickly. Everyone came to despise the sight of greasy cardboard boxes.
To help a friend, I agreed to do ‘craft service’ and cook the meals for the crew. She gave me $150 and informed me that she needed to feed 20 crewmembers, plus cast and extras. For a four-day shoot! I immediately called my mom. She told me to go to discount grocers and warehouse food chains. “Stretch your money, don’t buy name brand. They’ll never know,” she said. I converted my small apartment kitchen into catering central. My roommates didn’t dare enter. Dishes were labeled with notes that read ‘eat and die.’ But my first on-set arrival with a steaming vat of homemade chili, and a vegetarian pot as well, went over amazingly well. I served and watched the thankful crew tuck into their heaping bowls, wiping the edges with fluffy jalapeno-cheese cornbread muffins. I almost couldn’t believe I pulled it off.
I was hooked. I started watching cooking shows and picking up recipes from magazines. I mastered budget friendly, large-scale meals to family recipes and complicated dinners-for-two. After college, I fell into restaurant management and quickly discovered that cooking for pleasure and making a living off it were two very different ventures. But I didn’t stop cooking at home, for my boyfriend and our friends. Somehow everyone ended up in the kitchen with me, sharing a bottle of wine and cracking jokes as I cooked. My best moments weren’t delivering plates to the tables at the restaurant, but placing one in front of my boyfriend and watching his face light up and say “this looks good.” Or experience the comforting silence, that moment when everyone first starts eating, when they are so intent on the flavors that no one talks at all. It is in that moment when it turns out that my mother was right. I finally reached that ‘someday’ when I was glad I learned to cook.
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