I never told anyone how passionate I am about cooking. It wasn?t till I got older and began to travel that I realized the importance of food and culture. Before then I never took pleasure in the preparation of meals. The whole process of cooking was a nuisance. At family functions the women would be in the kitchen cooking, telling stories, and laughing.
I would always watch from a far but never joined in for the fear of getting dirty, or causing an accident. I later conquered my fear and began to cook often. My family would get together every Sunday to eat, dance, and enjoy each others company. This specific day they were serving fresh fish. As I devoured the fish, I never stopped to think of the time it took to prepare it, where it came from, or how it came to be? I never thought a meal could give such insight into a people?s culture. Food is influenced by culture.
The first time I realized this was when I traveled outside of Puerto Rico. My mother was working in a hotel and was invited to the grand opening of El Conquistador in Catalonia, Spain. It was a different world, a world that revolved around food. The people of Spain take simple pleasure in life. Everyday they take a ?Siesta?.
Siesta is the Spanish word for nap. It is around noon, when the stores and restaurants start closing. The town becomes a desolate place. People head home to be with their families, and enjoy their lunch; afterwards they rest. They come back out in the evening.
The streets become crowded again, couples stroll by, children run down the sidewalks, music travels from balconies down to the streets. Florescent lamps illuminate the town and the intoxicating smells of food invade your nostrils. It is now dinner time. Dinner time for Spaniards is usually around 9:00 pm.
By then I was starving, I asked my friend and guide Laura, to order for us. I began to recognize some of the dishes being set at our table. The aroma brought back nostalgic memories of home. They were typical dishes we would have at our family parties in Puerto Rico.
Somehow we crossed paths. We shared something in common. We both shared the same history. Millions of years ago we evolved, we learned how to hunt and gather. We created fire, and realized the importance of heating and preserving food. We nourished our bodies and brains and food became an essential part of survival.
There were regions of the world with different climates. Foods that would flourish and grow in certain parts of the world did not exist in others. Explorers crossed oceans, found new land and conquered people. Years ago Puerto Rico was ?discovered? by Spanish Conquistadors. The island was inhabited by Native settlers when the Spaniards arrived.
Cultures clashed and what is now Puerto Rico came to be. Spanish heritage has left an undeniable impression on the island and proof of its cultural exchange can be found in the local culinary styles. I now view cooking as a way of reconnecting with the past. I incorporate old traditional recipes and add new ingredients to create something new and unique.
The process is what sustains my love for cuisine. The time and effort put into a meal, and the way it quickly disappears. The silence in a room filled with people who are too busy eating to talk. The consistency of things, that no matter where you are in the world it will always take twelve minutes to boil an egg. I now have a new sense of appreciation for cuisine. I love inviting friends and family dinner and enjoying delicious, home made meals together.
The fruit of my labor is seeing the satisfying smiles on their faces and hearing them say things like ?Compliments to the chef!? I also realize the importance of preparing your own meals. You have complete control of the ingredients being used, and the finishing product. There are many benefits to learning how to cook. It is a lot more economical to buy your own food at the grocery store then to go to a restaurant every night.
Often times in restaurants menus describe the meal but leave out important facts like calories, and fat. When people cook they have more knowledge of what they are consuming. Food today has all kinds of pesticides and hormones. Cooking gives you the option of choosing. You can choose to purchase meat with no hormone additives, fruits with no pesticides, and foods with any high fructose syrup. These chemicals have been linked to such disease as cancer, and diabetes.
Jean Anthelme once said ?Tell me what you eat, and ill tell you who you are?. Does not caring about what you eat say something about yourself? And if it did give an insight of who you are, would it be looked at as negative or positive? These questions I can not answer, but I can tell you one of my favorite parts of life. The way we have to stop whatever it is we are doing, and devote our full attention to eating. Cooking has brought me great joys. It?s a way of keeping tradition alive. Every recipe is an ode to those who have created it; creating one your self gives a sense of achievement.
It?s something you can share with your family, and pass down to those who live on after you. As a child I did not see the importance in cooking. As an adult, who will someday have children of my own, I do.