I love cooking. It is profoundly loving to feed people. With that one gesture you can say, “I love you and so here is a token of my love. It represents my desire for you to thrive because it makes me happy when you thrive”. Food is a universal language. It brings people together on all continents and in all cultures on this planet. I often call it “the great unifier”. I love it when the busy activity of our individual lives stops and we come together around the table to share the experience of flavors.
I was born with synesthesia (a “disorder” many extrasensory people have). Most of the time, synesthesia is a major hindrance. It makes life hard. I live with no filters between me and all of the sensory stimulus which floods in from everyone and everything around me. But there is one benefit to having synesthesia that I wouldn’t give up for anything… I can taste experiences in flavors. In other words, my brain matches the vibratory rate of a flavor with the vibratory rate of a feeling state that is induced by an experience. This is not the same thing as an “association”.
An example of an association is: I’m eating spaghetti, which makes me think of sitting in Italy overlooking a vineyard at sunset. The experience that vibrationally matches a dish usually has nothing to do with what we traditionally associate with that dish.
An example of finding an experience in flavors is: I’m eating beet salad with toasted almonds. The human experience that matches the vibration of this dish is: It is autumn; I am a pre-teen boy who is barely entering puberty and who is living in a small town. I haven’t got many friends, so I am playing alone after school in a marsh about a mile away from my house. The sun is growing softer as it approaches the horizon. I’m catching toads and placing them in a bucket. I’m getting hungry so I begin to walk home and I wave at the familiar townspeople when they pass by me on the road every so often with their windows down.
When we go out to dinner, my communal family members love to ask me what experience matches the food they are eating. I have often toyed around with the idea of opening a rather unconventional restaurant, which is all about the experience. At this restaurant, the menu would detail a plethora of experiences. So instead of ordering a specific dish, you’d order the experience you want to have and you would be served the dish that matches that experience. I think synesthesia is in fact what makes me so good at cooking. I know based on the flavor of each ingredient, what story I am ultimately telling the person who will be eating the dish. I know how to deliberately combine ingredients in order to tell good stories with the food and I know how to avoid combining ingredients so I don’t tell bad stories with the food. The result of that knowing is that I can create recipes with wonderfully harmonious flavor profiles.
That reminds me… Someone asked me this week, what my favorite spices are. I thought about it for a while and I finally have my answer. Even though I use garlic all the time and love it, my favorite spices are rose, vanilla and bay leaf. To me, rose is everything glamorous about the world. This is going to sound odd, but rose is like laying in bed naked with a bewitchingly beautiful, exotic, curvaceous, woman; knowing that when you think back on the night you spent together, you will feel that bitter sweet bite of nostalgia. Vanilla is like the part of everyone that can still be touched by kindness (no matter how much they have walled themselves off to the world). It evokes the vulnerable part in people that is still “human”, even in the cruelest of people. It is stable, it is cozy and it is like the parts of childhood that we may actually miss. Like warm towels fresh out of the dryer. It tastes like home should feel like. It is a “common” flavor only because it (like the human-ness in all of us) unites us all. And if wisdom and perspective had a taste, it would be bay leaf. It tastes like all the good things about tradition and all the stability one gets out of learning lessons the hard way. The flavor of it is like a candid image of an old, hand-hewn log cabin in black and white; with it’s occupants (in 1800s clothing) smiling at each other at the end of summer right before the season slows down into autumn. It tastes like an antique. It gives perspective to life.
To me, food is edible art. It is art that promotes wellbeing in others. It is the centerpiece of connection. There is a grace inherent in it’s impermanence. It can take all day to create something that takes less than five minutes to eat. And it is always worth it. It is always worth the smile I see on someone’s lips when my food has provided them with a moment of pleasure.