Does it ever happen to you that you’re reading or listening to something that brings so much clarity to a topic that it suddenly answers all those questions and feelings you had for a long time but could not really find the right words to express them? It happens to me all the time as I read and listen to podcasts a lot. I don’t have many favourite podcasts, but the ones I follow are full of these aha moments.
My latest revelation has been the Home Cooking show hosted by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway. They started it as a lockdown project, to help and guide people to cook with whatever they have in house, provide some comfort sprinkled with fun moments and laughter. This was my favourite thing to listen to in the last weekends and to be honest, I started it all over again, because it’s just so fun and joyful and full of great food and cooking insights. But the episode that I loved the most, was this one, where Samin and Hrishi talk to Yo-Yo Ma about what food means to them and how it makes them feel in relation to themselves, their memories and the people around them. I was driving while listening and I just felt this urge to stop, pull on the right and take a deep breath to be able to contain all the feelings and memories that came back to me while listening to the calm and comforting voice of Yo-Yo Ma saying things like:
“You know, I've been thinking a lot about how we imagine things. And one of the things I know that we all do really well is that we can imagine food. We can almost taste it. […] And for me, it's the smell of a bakery. Because I was born in Paris, and where people do baking onsite, in the boulangerie, patisseries. At 5:00 in the morning you go out in the street and you can get this overwhelming smell of people making bread and French bread. As a child, I used to eat the croissants. As an old man, I'm still eating those croissants. But somehow […] they taste best there for some reason. That's a really, really strong early memory. You just can talk to me about a baguette or a croissant and you get this physical reaction from me, because it's right there.” Home Cooking, Ep. 4: Guess What? Chicken Butt is Delicious (with Yo-Yo Ma)
I keep on saying to myself every time I cook something new or I am pleased with the result of a kitchen experiment: isn’t food just the most amazing thing? How it gives you a reason to use your imagination and your hands, making something for someone else, connect to someone, call your mom or dad or a good friend for that recipe you really liked when you saw each other last time. There are so many things keeping us apart these days, isolating us from each other, bringing survival instinct and frustrations to the surface, but for some reason, food is one of the few things that brings us back together again. It’s so universal and so comforting that it invisibly connects even the most different individuals on the planet, making selfishness, greed and narcissism look like traits from a different species of humans.
Food is a conversation starter and an ice breaker. There’s almost always a story that food brings back when we take the time to really be aware and present. It has a therapeutic and healing effect, when thoughts and memories are just coming spontanously, without too much effort and upfront preparation. If I think for a second at the time I spent studying in Le Havre, in the north of France, the first thing that comes back is not how it felt to be poor and live in a ten square meters room and not afford to eat in a restaurant. What comes to my mind first, is the sight and the smell of the fish market two blocks away, where fishermen were arriving early in the morning with fresh mussels, clam shells and shrimp. What I remember is that I had never eaten mussels before and I decided to try and make them myself because they were so cheap. And I felt so proud of myself when I could eat restaurant food, ten times cheaper. What I remember are the simple dinner parties and one day trips with friends where we shared the little we had and were happy together with a simple galette bretonne. These are my flavour files that Samin talks so beautifully about:
“[…] I always talk about having a filing cabinet, like a flavor files. They're called flavor files. For me as a cook, I have this thing where I want to travel everywhere and taste the real version of the thing in its place, so that I can file that away and then try and cook toward that when I get home. A big part of that is all of these memories and these very specific times that things brought me such joy or pleasure. That's what I'm trying to recreate for myself and for the people around me, or now that I write recipes and try and communicate that to others through my writing. I don't know. It's so beautiful.” Home Cooking, Ep. 4: Guess What? Chicken Butt is Delicious (with Yo-Yo Ma)
When I think about France, I always get a flashback of images combined with physical sensations and emotions, spinning like a caroussel on a Yann Thiersen melody. I felt so much joy searching through old pictures and remembering those times. So I will just leave here a few of my favorite moments from one day trips in Normandy and a last passage from the wise and serene Yo-Yo Ma. I hope you will listen to this amazing show. Please please please listen to this amazing show:
“It's wonderful that you talk about those memories, because I think for me a piece of music is not about so much notes or playing it, it's about actually creating or recapturing an emotional state of mind. Every piece actually is almost like a pill that takes you to a very specific state of mind. If you're in that state of mind, you can recreate it and if something doesn't go right, that doesn't matter. It means you don't worry about perfection. If I'm playing for somebody, it's very personal. I think it's like if you're cooking for somebody, I imagine it's the same thing. It's like you're giving them love. You're offering them something that you know might be useful. In fact, whenever I perform, I think I am throwing a party. Everybody that comes into a room is my guest, and I am the host. So instead of food, I'm offering them sounds. Those sounds are designed for them to have to get to a certain state of mind. That's part of the communing.”