Monday, April 2, 2007

An Essay From Earlier This Year

There is a reason that the emotions of Valentine’s Day are wrapped around food. Chocolates, breakfast in bed, candlelight dinner for two, a quiet meal at your favorite restaurant, these are all distinct gestures of love. This is because one of the most intimate acts possible is feeding people. What I cook, the dinner I craft with my hands and my mind and my mouth, goes inside your body. Think of that. There are few connections more intimate, more intense, or more fraught with repercussions as feeding and being fed. Cooking for your love is about as romantic as you can get. Really.

Cooking is the only art from where the creation truly becomes part of the recipient. Each atom in your body (with the exception of oxygen) came from food or drink that you placed in your mouth. From milk nursed as an infant to the junk food of adolescence to last Saturday night’s steak, you are what you eat. Your health is affected, your mood, your soul. And without love by the cook, food is simply nourishment. With love, it is beauty and life.

When we opened Casbah eleven years ago, we had an unusual problem in the dining room. People were getting busy. In the course of the first year, we had couples making out on the bar banquette, fooling around under the tables, and going all the way in the bathrooms. It seemed every weekend gave the staff another ribald story to titter about at the bar after work. Never in my life have I worked in a restaurant with so much action going on, the occasional cook and waitress making out in the stockroom notwithstanding. It could have been the excitement of a new, darkly lit, fashionable restaurant. It may have been the racy art on the walls. But I have always thought that it just might have a little bit to do with the fact that the Chef had fallen in love and was cooking with the passion and desire of the newly smitten. I was in love with her, and in love with the food, and in love with the world. I wanted everything I made to be perfect and everything she ate to be delicious. By extension, everything in the restaurant had to be perfect. People ate my love, and drank my love, and felt it bloom in their hearts. Some of them got frisky.

So those of you reading this that were involved in those private and not so private trysts at Casbah all those years ago, I am glad to have helped you get lucky. And to any children who are a product those wild nights, you are almost of the age where you will begin to fall in love. I hope those once wild parents of yours give you the benefit of the doubt and let you revel in the bittersweet ecstasy of new love when you stumble into it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chicken and Dumplings for Mary

Veuve Clicquot Champagne

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