Eating, like clothing and shelter, is a necessity. But just as every culture discovers and develops ways of building shelters and designing clothing based on their resources and their particular needs and sensibilities, so too cooking is a creative necessity.
Just think of all the different kinds of bread there are in the world–made from numerous different grains and prepared in infinite ways: from the fermented flatbread made of teff–injera–in Ethiopia to the baguettes and boules of Paris.
Eating is about so much more than survival. To paraphrase Remy—the rat-who-would-be-chef in the animated film Ratatouille—“humans don’t just survive—they live!” While his relatives contentedly filled their bellies with any old scavenged thing, Remy loved to smell, taste, combine, and create with food—more than fuel for survival, food to him is a life-affirming experience and an act of passionate creativity. He experiences food as aesthetically thrilling in ways that are barely comprehensible to his rat relatives: when Remy tastes a strawberry and some cheese, he sees brilliant colors and hears soaring melodies; when he tastes them in combination, he sees fireworks and hears a symphony. His brother, tasting the same stuff, experiences only a short burst of color and hears a few weak notes. Ingredients, to the rat-chef, are like oil paints in the hands of a master painter; musical tones in the hands of a composer.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview two of New York’s finest chefs, pastry chef Claudia Fleming and Chef Gerry Hayden of the North Fork Table and Inn, and discovered that the fictional depiction of Remy was very true to the dedication, artistry, and enthusiasm of these fine chefs. They’d rather go broke than offer their guests anything less than the absolute best ingredients prepared in the finest, freshest possible way: they “live dangerously” out of respect for their work–a sure mark of artistic dedication. They left lucrative positions in New York City restaurants to come to the East End of Long Island, where vineyards and small biodynamic farms line the country roads because “out here,” says Chef Hayden, “you find peaches that really taste like peaches.” The chef shaped his hands around an invisible peach and closed his eyes; I imagine he was thinking of the sensory experience of one specific peach. “This–this inspires me to create,” he said.
Cooking–even everyday cooking–is a way of celebrating creation and the human creativity that reflects God’s own creative work. To cook this way, we must pay attention to every bit of food that comes before us with loving regard–not to look at it for what it can mean to us but to look at it for what it is in all its quirky uniqueness. As Rev. Capon insisted, our real work “is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does and man was not made in God’s image for nothing.” A peach is a peach with its own texture, taste, and smell–not a delivery system for calories or nutrients. By giving loving attention to our food, eating–and cooking–can become acts of worship as we regard and then creatively encounter what God has made–never regarding a food or a recipe as natural and inevitable, but seeing each, instead, as products of ingenuity, creativity, and the ‘ordinary’ miracles of soil fertility and divine blessing.
Taken from an upcoming work by Rachel Stone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
Rachel has written for Christianity Today, Books & Culture, Catapult Magazine, The Progressive Christian, and Flourish, and is a regular contributor to the Christianity Today women’s blog, her.meneutics. She keeps a daily blog, Eat With Joy.