I’ve never been a foodie. I can’t tell you the difference between cooking with vegetable oil or olive oil, I rarely use measuring cups, and I’m still not sure how much pasta to throw in the pot for two people. However, I can tell you that nobody appreciates a gourmet meal quite like a kid who grew up on TV dinners.
When I was little and I would go to the grocery store with my mother, it seemed normal to just point out what microwave meals I wanted for the week. When I would eat them at the end of a long day, I would always feel empty, a little gross, and always hungry, hungry for something with a taste; with flavor.
Turkish lunch from Istanbul
Getting invited to other people’s homes for dinner was always a real treat, which was why I made it a point to get in the good graces of fat Italian mothers who made it all from scratch. In my head, they spent the day poring over cookbooks, stewing pots of homemade pastas and beating down tomatoes with their bare hands. At the end of the day they would emerge from their lairs, beautiful again, eager to present finely laid out meals to their happy families and their kid’s weird friend who may or may not have lived in a car.
However, living on your own finally gives you the opportunity to live life the way you imagined it from your pink bedroom. Besides learning how to pay bills, scream at conniving gas companies, and fix leaky roofs, I finally learned how to boil water and thus began my gourmet chefdom and eventual progression into the closest to adulthood that I will ever wander.
When I went to Italy for a few months when I was 21, my newfound obsession with cooking and creating was brought to a new level when I realized I wasn’t the only one. Unlike in America, when every Internet recipe screams “easy” and “quick,” Italian recipes whispered for dutiful chefs, qualitative cooking, rich spices, and savory, dark flavors.
Blueberry steak from Acqua al due, Florence
Although it was an adjustment to learn how to walk slower and talk faster, catching onto the beauty of food was not difficult. Finally, not only could I enjoy these creamy and pungent foods on a daily basis, but I could also create them, following vague instructions in Italian I learned from Giancarlo in my Pairing Food with Wine class and mixing flavors and spices in pots in my tiny kitchen and hoping the oven would work that day. I could spend hours hunched over dishes, but more often than not, the time would fly by and before I knew it, it would unfortunately be the time to sweep up the flour and figure out what I was going to pack for lunch tomorrow.
Thankfully, it didn’t end there – in every country I went to, I would never balk at meats, tails, or goop staring back at me – instead, I would smile, dig in, and ask for seconds. Running around the world, I have yet to run into a dish I found truly disgusting, and instead, I jump at the chance to try whale at the local fish market in Bergen, eat bratwurst and roasted nuts at Oktoberfest, and dig away at fish heads in Brac.
Seafood pasta dish from Split, Croatia
Back in America, I talk to people all day long who ate food for dinner that had already been cooked in a bag and they’re just grateful to have some time back in their lives; for themselves. But for me, cooking is for myself, whether I’m trying to recreate a Spanish paella, master the perfect bruschetta, or throw a bunch of stuff together that tastes strangely Creole.
Even if the world is keeping me at home, it will not keep the world out of my kitchen. By the time I finish cooking dinner and drinking wine it may be too late to do the laundry, clean my room, or watch some television, but I have yet to go to sleep hungry.