Food is a Universal Language
This Q&A was originally edited by my friend Jane Francis, for when I was a corporate chef. Gladly I can say that I wouldn’t want to be a corporate chef again unless…
But here you go. Below is also a treat for you–a recipe which fittingly works since springtime is amongst us. This dates back just a wee bit ago March 25th 2015.
On why I cook.
I love food. I appreciate its ability to give us sustenance, and to be relevant no matter what situation you are in. It’s a universal language. People always love food and can in some way shape or manner talk about it.
Cooking is like any vocation: It takes hard work, a team effort, and most importantly, passion. I cook because I love it and I can’t think of a better way to streamline the thoughts within my head. I believe that everyone should be able to have an avenue where they can experiment and grow. It’s a great feeling to constantly learn as well as teach.
Food is deeply emotional, and inherently creative.
My father was a baker. I remember the days when I stood on a step-stool and helped him cut dough. My favorite moments with him were Saturdays, when the two of us would go on adventures to new restaurants. I can’t tell you how important that was for me, to be able to taste different flavors. The strongest memories I have of my father are associated with food. With my mother, too, I have fond memories of the times spent in our kitchen as a little girl watching her pick herbs or chop meat with her rusted cleaver. She would blow onto a hot spoon that was freshly lifted from the bubbling pot, filled with stock or porridge and with one hand underneath, careful to not drop a drip, she ushered it into my mouth.
Food can be transportative, and it makes us expansive and open to possibilities. It can take you backwards and forwards in time; it can take you all over the world in a single bite.
Why is food important at Hattery?
Eating lunch together isn’t just an office perk, it’s an integral part of culture. It’s important to take a break in order to refresh and recharge the mind, and interact with the people we work with in a different capacity. Having a chef on hand who cooks good, healthy and comforting foods invites those in the office to take a little time to nourish themselves.
From the eyes, nose, palate, and into the belly, it is important that the food is always warm and welcoming. I try to make lunch an experience, a moment to fully disconnect from whatever you’re working on and reconnect with an elemental part of yourself. There is a chalkboard detailing what it is that you will be eating, a nice tablecloth, music playing in the background, the patio door open when the sun is shining. Each day I carefully plate and take a picture alongside a Tweeted description of what’s for lunch. I call it a very tech savvy cow bell.
Keep it simple.
It’s important for me to hand peel garlic, to decide whether to peel carrots or let them be. I find joy in hand grating carrots…I can’t tell you why. I like to cook as much as possible without using machines or shortcuts, to use the least amount of manipulation and really allow the flavors to come out.
With cooking, the most important thing is not to overcomplicate your food. If and when you do, you dilute it. I think this is true for any process of creation. That said, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite simple, nourishing, wholesome recipes. It is simple to make yet complicated in just the right way — and completely flavorful. In it we use our house preserved lemons, made by our resident baker and pickler Ryan Lee. You can purchase preserved lemons at specialty stores, or make them at home.
Asparagus, Preserved Lemon & Green Garlic Pasta w/ Ricotta Mint & Pine Nuts
for two to four people
8 oz. Pasta
1 ½ C. Asparagus
4 T. Fine Minced Preserved Lemon
2/3 C. Ricotta
¼ C. Green Garlic
¼ C. Toasted Pine Nuts
2 T. Mint
4 T. Olive Oil
Salt to taste
1. Bring water to boil: Season water well with salt to make it “taste like the sea”.
2. Place pasta in water and continue to cook according to packaged directions.
3. Heat sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, place green garlic in pan and cook for 3 minutes. Do not add color or burn the green garlic. Add asparagus, toss and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt (be mindful that the pasta water is quite salty. Taste all elements before you continue to salt your food).
4. Toast pine nuts either in another pan or in oven until lightly golden. Place aside.
5. Place drained pasta in pan with asparagus and green garlic. Transfer pasta to large bowl. Add minced preserved lemon, green garlic, ricotta and mint. Toss well. Serve.
Right now I am so happy to be in the present, cooking for the people at Hattery. I do know that I have lots to learn still, everyone has lots to learn, and it’s when you stop that you are defeating yourself. I hope that never happens to me.