On Sunday We Cook was a series from my 30 Daily (for now) Brand Therapy Newsletters.
The generosity of the kitchen. I say that because no one goes into that room alone. There is always the memory of shared meals, or the anticipation of a coming together in the future over a dish. We cook to express our love for others through food, the most universal language.
I find that books by chefs are just as generous as their memories are often rich with flavor, love and sometimes sadness. Because yes, food triggers all emotions.
In his book, The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pepin takes you through war-ravaged France where at the age of six he was taken to the country to live with another family on a dairy farm. Many parents living in cities such as Paris and London at that time did this to keep their children safe from bombs and soldiers. It was sad, and certainly not ideal, but then, neither was the alternative.
Early on in the book, Pepin recalls his first night on the farm. After the initial excitement of a new place, he realizes his mother has slipped off without his knowing and he cries himself to sleep. The next day he goes to work milking cows. At the end of the day, the woman of the house gives him a bowl of the very milk he procured. He recalls, “The milk was foamy and slightly tepid, with a rich buttery flavor. She had no way of knowing, but that plain country woman, whose name I have long forgotten, taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: Food could be much more than mere sustenance. That night I didn’t cry.”
At which point, upon reading that, I did cry!
He goes on to recount how he worked himself up from nothing in the toughest classroom of all — the professional French restaurant kitchen — to later come to the United States and become the man Julia Child called “the best chef in America.”
Generosity builds a life and that builds a legacy.
Food is our legacy we give to one another, however humble it may be. We might be cooking alone right now, but I know that at every meal you are accompanied by the memory of those who have shared your table, and with the bittersweet hope of shared meals as we wait until we can fill our table again with beloved dishes, family and friends.
When I began writing this today, I wanted to share my favorite chefs who have inspired me with their writing and their recipes but I became caught up with writing about Pepin. His was the first chef’s book I read. Since then I’ve gone on to read Ruth Reichl, Gabrielle Hamilton and more. I highly recommend them.
Had I’d known I would focus on Pepin I would have cooked my favorite recipe from his book (almost every chapter ends with a recipe from that time in his life). This is the one I make again and again: Chicken a la Creme.
In lieu of that, here is my Sunday dinner for us — Lemony Chicken Soup with Fennel and Dill — from a recent fave of mine, Alison Roman. She’s also a really great food writer albeit very different from Pepin. She writes for the New York Times and Bon Appetit and her two cookbooks are Dining In and Nothing Fancy. Her style is right for today — quick and saucy — and so is her cooking!
Eat hearty. Eat with love. Eat with generosity. Tomorrow we begin again.
My joy at finding crockery big enough to cook you all a huge batch of Lemony Chicken Soup!