I grew up in an Italian-American household tethered to the apron strings of an over-protective mother. Needless to say, most of my developmental years were spend in the kitchen. It seems like I’ve been shackled to a desk ever since. First, there were the school years. Then my professional career, or as I like to call it, the long climb to the middle.
Staring at spreadsheets all day under fluorescent lighting is tedious way to make a living. Some form of creative release is needed to help maintain balance. Unfortunately, outlets for creativity become fewer and fewer as time and careers advance.
My solace had always been found in the kitchen. Cooking provided a way to unwind on the weekends. It utilized a different set of skills than those used during the week and provided the creative release so desperately needed.
The defining moment both personally and professionally occurred when my employer at the time offered full tuition reimbursement to all employees. It was applicable to any curriculum being offered by an accredited institution.
Most of my peers took advantage of this program by pursuing their MBA’s. I had other plans. I went to culinary school. There were already enough stuffed shirts running around the office. These people all thought the same and sounded alike. To mix it up a bit, I donned kitchen whites and a Toque in a sea of blue suits and red ties.
Several years have now passed. Most of my old colleagues have advanced in their careers. I’m still stuck toiling away in middle management. Some of them ask me from time to time if I regret the decision not to go to Business School.
“Hell no” I reply without missing a beat.
What’s for dinner?
Growing up, ancestry and community combined to influence my tastes in food. We were a family of Cuban, Russian and German descent living in an Italian American neighborhood. A cultural smorgasbord could always be found on our dining table. A typical Thanksgiving meal for us would include Turkey, Cuban fresh Ham, Manicotti, and rice and beans.
Written recipes were non-existent in my family’s kitchens. The food was prepared from memory by grandmothers, mothers and aunts. The dishes were never exactly the same but always as good (if not better) than the last time they were served. As a young girl, I never appreciated the skill and artistry these women displayed. Now, as a grown woman, I yearn to recreate their dishes as tribute. Unfortunately, the specific ingredients and techniques have been lost to the ages. I’ve watched them cook this food a million times. Only now do I realize I never really learned how to make it myself.
Our community was located in a borough of New York City. The area has been maligned by the media over the years. To me, it was more like Mayberry than Fort Apache. Simple detached homes with backyard vegetable gardens lined the streets. Local ”Mom and Pop” shops lined the town. You went to the butcher for meat, the Baker for bread. The merchants knew your name and had your orders ready before you arrived. Everyone knew each other within a 2 block radius. We all looked out for one another.
As I traveled abroad later in life, my diverse cultural upbringing evolved into a true passion for ethnic cultures and cuisines. Some Foodies focus entirely on the plates set before them, then claim to have a “World Palate”. I think a sincere appreciation of regional customs and cuisines comes from understanding the origins of food and the people it sustains.