I began writing these “notes” in 1995 when inserting the first one into the menu of my restaurant, Biscotti. I felt my patrons should know something about the person cooking their food. I was sure they could taste my intentions in their meal.
I continued writing a new note each month ever since, because there was always something more to say and writing them made me feel closer to the people I cooked for and closer to you.
I didn’t always know that the kitchen was a healing place. As a child, all I knew was that it felt good when I was there. The kitchen was where abundance always reigned, where tantalizing aromas from steaming pots on the cook top drew me in, and overflowing platters held any number of treasures ready to satisfy my hunger in an instant. It didn’t matter what the outside world looked like; the kitchen was neutral ground, a place of respite from life’s little annoyances – from scraped knees to aching hearts – a soothing balm that simply nourished.
We’ve all heard it said that it’s the journey, not the destination, where the true prize waits. Now, as an adult and professional chef, I often wonder if we’ve lost some of the kitchen’s inherent magic when our focus is on the finished dish rather than on the process of preparing it. Does the real soul of the kitchen evaporate when we approach cooking as a chore rather than a pleasure?
There are few things in life that offer multiple gifts as readily as the kitchen. Good food is the most obvious, but it’s the more subtle contributions that most surprised me, becoming clear only after years of observation. I didn’t realize that as I was stirring a sauce, chopping an onion, kneading the dough, or performing any number of tasks that cooking demands, that I was really practicing an ancient meditation. Cooking, by its very nature, requires one’s full attention. Any deviation produces almost instant consequences – burnt sauce, a cut finger, a forgotten ingredient…
Over the years, I began to recognize that cooking was a practice of presence my otherwise cluttered mind so desperately needed. When I cook, my mind is still, relaxed, focused only on the task before me – because it has to be. This is the true gift of the kitchen, comfort for a tattered spirit, a place to rest and regain strength, while it provides sustenance for the body.
The idea that I could be training my mind in the art of meditation and still end up with something wonderful to eat just never ceases to amaze me. What could be more loving, more nourishing, more healing than this? This is cooking as a form of spiritual practice – the Zen of the kitchen – a perfect blend of the practical with the profound, and the gift of both.