Monday, May 19, 2008

Food and Love and My Usual Ramblings

We have a long weekend this week with Monday (19th May) being Vesak Day - a public holiday. I was supposed to spend the time reading and writing. Alas, I spend a good deal of it watching Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen instead. I'll put it down as research, since one of my main character is a sous chef.

What do I know about being a sous chef in a fancy restaurant? Very little, unless you count my part-time stint as a clerk in a French restaurant from 9 years ago. (It was a fun job, actually - brought to an abrupt end when the owners got into a dispute with the landlord over the rent and the restaurant was forced to shut down.)

I'm reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone right now. I've been the buyer for our Lifestyle section for the past few years, and while I do not claim to be an expert, I will admit to a growing interest in the area - especially for food writings. I read M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating last year. It was interesting, and it made me want to explore further the emotional relationship we have to food.

One of the erronous assumption people make is that because I am vegetarian, I am indifferent to food. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. It was when I became vegetarian that I started really paying attention to what I eat. I become more conscious of my meals: the ingredients, the taste, the texture, how they are prepared. It's not just about avoiding the meat - you also have to make sure you have a balanced diet that keeps you healthy. When I am not eating right, I can feel the difference in my body.

I am also curious about the the preparation of a meal - because it is one of the most intimidate and personal food experiences. Since I turned vegetarian, I find myself having to cook more. I am still not very good at it, but I try.

A friend once told us this story, of how her sister was in Korea, and she sought out this old lady who was renowned for her kimchi. When she asked the old lady about how to make good kimchi, the old lady replied: You have to season each cabbage leaf individually. As you massage the seasoning into the cabbage leaves one by one, imagine your family happily enjoying the kimchi you made for them.

Her method of preparing kimchi is a lot of work. Most of us just pick up a pack of kimchi from the supermarket instead; it's easier, so why bother, right?

I am not an expert here, but I think there is something to what the old lady is telling us. Just imagine if we can put that much love and mindfulness into preparing a meal, it would be something extraordinary indeed.

I was also looking through my old magazines over the weekend. I found the Yoga + Joyful Living article that spurred me to want to write this story about a farmer and a chef. (Right now the story stinks like ripe blue cheese. You see why I would be embarrassed to have people I know learn about this? :p)

It's a small feature on Deborah Madison, whom I know as the author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. What surprised me was that in her younger days, Madison practiced at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, where she served as inaugural chef of Greens restaurant, as well as its head monk.

Asked what anchors her, Madison says without hesitation, "Sitting. Zazen." She pause and adds, "And my garden. It's literally grounding. When you grow your own food, it's clear what's for dinner."

It's as simple as that. A short article in a yoga magazine, about a woman who believes in growing your own food for dinner, because it anchors her. It just struck me - there is a love story here (or it's probably just my brain at work.)

And just in case anyone is interested, I drew up a reading list yesterday. For research purposes, of course. :)


Andi said...

What a perfectly fitting post for me right now! I'm contemplating becoming a vegetarian, and I've been dabbling heavily in vegetarian cooking.

I've become increasingly interested in foodie books over the last year or two. Kitchen Confidential is great, but I much preferred his book, A Cook's Tour. It had a much more worldly and reverential feel to it. I haven't read Tender at the Bone just yet, but it's on my stack. A number of the other books you listed here are on my wishlist.

Right now I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Kingsolver), and I just love it. I daresay it could be life changing.

Yogamum said...

I loved Heat and Kitchen Confidential!

Also I thought My Life in France by Julia Child was fantastic.

I love foodie books!!

Doc Martian said...

heh. my first g/f was korean. her mom made the best kim-chi. i wanted to marry her mom. needless to say, that led to all sorts of hell. i seriously need to get like a gallon glass canister to make kim-chi in. i have one for sun tea... but i know i'd never be able to get the kim-chi flavor out.

one time, her family took me to a sw-ank korean restaurant. it was in a crappy lil' two story mini-mall... at least that's how it looked to me at the end of a drive to l.a..... inside? major accoutrements... dim sum... kim-chi on all the tables... great service... linen tablecloths... swank. you'd have never guessed it from the outside. i'd never be able to find the place again either. sigh.


Anonymous said...

What a great list (for research, of course). I'm currently enjoying the Dragon's Gate book and have also read both books by Alice Waters. Soul of a Chef is on my bookstack and has come to me highly recommended. I tried the Bourdain. He just doesn't suit me. I'm wondering if you've read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? If not, I second Andi's recommendation. Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen is excellent on the ins and outs of the chef's life and kitchen. In any case, what a great post and also a very fine site. Thanks!

Bybee said...

Most Korean cooking seems really labor-intensive. It's true that seasoning each and every cabbage leaf makes the kimchi beter. It's one of my dreams to make a successful batch one day.

darkorpheus said...

Andi - I actually have the kingsolver proof at my desk. I'm putting it on my reading list right now. thanks for the tip. :)

and good for you on the veggie cooking. just remember - no stress on the vegetarian bit. just do what you're comfortable with. you're not obliged to answer to anyone but yourself - and your own health.

yogamum I'm enjoying foodie books too. The foodie books are one of my favourite part of my job. :)

I'm taking note of the Julia Child. Thanks. Keep the recommendation coming!

doc I would marry the mother too, if her kimchi was REALLY good I can eat them for every meal. Actually, I did that for a week. So. :)

You should have been nicer to the mother back then. Never hurts. :)

TJ Hi. Thanks for dropping by. And thank you for the Jacque Pepin recommendation. So many books. I'm happy. :)

The more I read about Dragon's Gate, the more I want to read it. But I think it's on reprint right now, so I'm a little disappointed.

Bybee Does it take a very long time to make the kimchi though? Do you have to let it ferment for months or something? I love the spicy kimchi. Everytime my friends go to Korea I ask for kimchi. LOTS of them.

I wish you all the best on your kimchi making. It's so much work!

Remember: visualize your family enjoying the kimichi. *massage massage massage*

Doc Martian said...

heh. kim-chi, hard-boiled eggs and rice is YUM!

Doc Martian said...

p.s. i was pretty nice to her mom... after all... it was her mom... but my g/f was in that late differentation stage and needed some for me to crack wise regarding her mom... some of those stung... but i GUARANTEE i was never fool enough to crack wise to her mom in person... my momma din't raise no fools!

Jill said...

Okay, that'll teach me to catch up on blog posts backwards! Scratch my Ruth Reichl comment above (but are you enjoying it?). I have Heat on my book pile, and I'm looking forward to that one. Oh, and what about The Making of a Chef - I loved that. Have you read it? Food and books, what a great combo!

darkorpheus said...

Doc Hmm, your ex gf seems to have issues with her mother.

The wiser thing to do is not to say anything bad about the mother even to your gf.

Don't get me wrong though - just that I learnt the hard way that sometimes even if you don't say anything to their faces directly, the things we say have a way of coming back to bite us on the ass.

Darla Oh, I'm definitely enjoying Ruth Reichl. I'm currently 136 pages into the book. Should be able to finish it by this weekend and move on to Comfort Me With Apples. I want to read all her books!

I sort of excluded Making of a Chef because it seems to be quite old. (I thought he could proably cover some similar grounds in his later books) But do you recommend it as the title to start with? Does Ruhlman have to be read in order?

Food and books have these shared quality of being about desire, aspirations and the imagination. Great combination indeed!

Jill said...

I'm a total stickler about reading things in order, so I'd of course recommend it. But it's not strictly necessary for Rhulman's books. My favorite is Making of a Chef because what starts out as an idea for an article in a cooking magazine becomes a personal quest for the author, and that's what made the book so compelling to me. Plus it gave a wonderful idea, on a personal, spiritual level, what dedicating your life to cooking as a profession can mean, and I found that fascinating.

darkorpheus said...

Darla Okie. The moment I read this: "on a personal, spiritual level, what dedicating your life to cooking as a profession can mean", I am sold.

One of my lifelong questions is this: why we choose the profession we do? (Given that we have a choice, of course.)

Why be a chef, an artist, a farmer, a writer?

For some of us, the choice is a spiritual/deeply profound one. Sometimes coming to a profession can be just as mysterious as falling in love.

Why do you love this person, and not another? Why are you a chef, and not a banker?

The reasons are so personal, and so very interesting.

What does it mean to choose a path, and to dedicate your life to it?

Thanks, Darla. You just made me very interested in "Making of a Chef"

Jill said...

You are welcome. I just hope you like it! (I think I have book recommendation anxiety now!) :-)

darkorpheus said...

Darla Sometimes it can be worrying: What if the other person don't love the book you recommend? What if the expectation is set too high? :)

Anonymous said...

ah... i remember gimchi. it was ubiquitous when i went to korea.

too hot for me personally, but very charming, i thought. a dish with a lot of character.

my favourite was... what was it call. bulgogi (?). pieces of beef, with some veggies, that you wrap into lettuce.


darkorpheus said...

JP Is it a kind of barbeque beef springroll on lettuce? I think I had it before - many years ago before my salad days. :)

I love beef.

Oh wait, am vegetarian now. :(