Food was never a big deal to me when I was growing up. As a kid I was fortunate because we always had something to eat. I did not go hungry or intentionally miss meals because there was nothing to eat. That benefit came at the expense of both my parents having gone through the Great Depression when they were my age.
My attitude about mealtime was that at certain times during the day you had to get something to eat otherwise you would get sick and eventually die. The whole process was something that you repeated on a daily basis, just like breathing.
We were a meat and potatoes family—and bread, the other white meat. There was not a lot of variety in our diet and meals varied only by which day of the week we were going to have them in any given seven day period.
Sunday dinner was always a puzzle to me. After we moved to Florida, it was just my Mom, Dad and me at the dinner table. It seemed like a lot of fuss and work for my mother to prepare a big roast, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dessert just for the three of us to gather and consume.
Perhaps it was the ritualist vibe that I felt, that we were re-enacting a scene that was being repeated in other households of our family back in Ohio. Whatever it was, I felt disconnected from my immediate family and the rest of the tribe up North.
Our move to Western Colorado in 1977 was shocking on many fronts. The altitude, the weather, the geology, the weather, and the vast amount of elbow room stood in stark contrast to the crowded “big city” lifestyle that we had experienced in sub-tropical South Florida.
Colorado was also where we got in touch with with “seasonal living”, eating what is fresh at the moment. The Lioness learned how to can fruits and vegetables from some helpful ladies in the neighborhood. Everyday was Farmer’s Market Day and we had a wonderful selection of canned goods to last thru the Winter months.
During the year we also bought whole hogs and half a cow at a time. We had them butchered and wrapped and put them in our freezer for future consumption. Work for me was scarce during the sub-zero months and thanks to my wife’s frugal ingenuity our supermarket bills were almost non-existent from December to April. Food was becoming more of a year-long activity with a daily benefit.
San Francisco is the place where I truly learned to love food. I experienced a sensory overload walking through North Beach and Chinatown. The diversity of Italian and Asian cuisines was more than I ever imagined. By following the lead of some co-workers I learned the ins and outs of where to go for a quick lunch, a satisfying snack, or a nice quiet dinner.
It seemed like everyone I worked with was “into” a particular food or restaurant. Conversations on most of the jobs that I had worked revolved around cars, women and booze (the Holy Trinity). In San Francisco my fellow workers would reference restaurants and recipes (in addition to the Trinity). Great stories began, or included, a memorable meal somewhere in the tale and this is the jumping off point for this week’s Multimedia Monday post.
We have been watching Season 3 of the PBS series, The Mind of a Chef. Produced and narrated by Anthony Bourdain, this series explores how professional chefs think about food. Each season follows a number of different chefs and we get to learn how their life experiences influenced them and helped to mold them into the person they are today.
For me it is the culinary equivalent of the countless times I spent around a gang box, or a tailgate, as my peers shared their latest tips, techniques or tragedies. It is amazing what a person can learn when they stop talking and start listening.
The host of Season 3 is Ed Hill, a Korean-american chef, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY and relocated to Louisville, KY about 15 years ago. Ed brought up a topic that has resonated with me for the last 24 hours. He was talking about how Brooklyn, Louisville and his mother’s hometown in Korea are within two degrees of latitude of each other. The point he made was that the food grown in that global band is very much alike and the dishes prepared with those ingredients are very similar in composition and preparation. For example, the use of corn—hominy—is very similar in many recipes in both Korea and Kentucky.
I have been “reeling in the years”, with respect to geography and personal history, and looking at the various places that I have lived. Using Grand Junction, Colorado as a median puts me within 2 degrees North and South of a common latitude during the last 38 years with respect to where I was born, where we have lived and where we currently reside.
I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and that is 13 degrees south of my mean latitude. It is, however, half of a degree of longitude from where I was born in Ohio. Is it a simple twist of Fate, or part of a greater plan? On a personal note—and after much review—we have found it more comfortable, in many ways, here in the upper latitudes (The birthplace of The Lioness is one degree of latitude North of yours truly).
Wrap It Up
The Mind of a Chef is currently in its fourth season and I highly recommend watching it. Anthony Bourdain has created a place in the crowed Media Marketplace where talented people can gather and share their passion, experience and dreams with us. Every episode that we have watched has sparked an interesting conversation or uncovered dusty memories.
These days I find myself more willing to try new cuisines and more inspired to try new cooking techniques at home. This is a side of me that I never knew before.
How about you—what is your culinary background? Are you on the Supply side or the Consumer side?