Welcome to the mini blog series, An Appetite for Memory. As I move through this life and my career as a chef I hold certain food memories close to me while at other times my senses become triggered invoking a food memory. I thought that if this happens to me it likely happens to others as well so I started asking friends, family and colleagues about their food memories. What followed my inquiries were several emails and phone calls of nostalgic stories that were kindly and openly shared with me that I am happy to share here.
In part, that is what this series is about, sharing stories and experiences. Admittedly, I also want to invoke emotion and spark your own memory. I have multiple cultural, familial and educational influences in my life which shows up in how I cook. The countries in which I have lived and visited, my adoption, my family’s heritage, my pastry education and my life experiences have all brought me to the point at which I am and there is still an abundance of road left to travel. I try to make it a point to recognize what I am cooking and why. I try to make it a point to learn every single day. I try to make it a point to heal every single day. These are the memories that make up the journey. If you don’t think you have any food memories, I, and these stories, are kindly here to challenge you.
For the first story of this series I talked with my friend Jamie in Wisconsin. The food memory she shared with me is about making chili and how it connects her to her father Joe.
“My first experience making chili without him I followed the recipe… I wanted to make it exactly like his and make it very special.” The more she made it the more she realized how easy chili really was to prepare. She was more confident in the preparation and started adding her own little twists and adjustments. After a few successful batches she decided to make the chili for a big Packer party with friends. “I went shopping for the ingredients with one friend then made [the chili] at another friends house… I remember telling everybody that it was ready and I was extremely proud of it and tooting my own horn about it. I ended up saving little containers of it for my Mom and sisters to try.”
Joe was an avid deer hunter and typically made large batches of chili or meatballs in red sauce for his hunting group. In honor of that, as well as the simple joy of sharing, when Jamie makes these recipes she fills containers of both and shares them with family and friends. I was lucky enough to receive a container of meatballs and red sauce last Fall and it was wonderful. Cooking from the heart always tastes the best.
Joe’s recipe is a loaded three meat chili which is very appropriate for Wisconsin weather and hunting excursions. What makes his chili extra special and unique however is the recipe itself. Jamie once shared with me that when her father was sick with a rare case of sarcoma he wrote or typed out recipes in his own fun and whimsical way. “It could be written or a computer paper print out but it’s the things in parenthesis that I can see or feel his personality translated through a piece of paper.” “…he had put funny notes in all of the recipes and every time I go shopping for chili ingredients I think about him.
One of the last parts of this food memory that Jamie shared with me was very poetic and struck me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Joe’s battle with cancer eventually led to the amputation of the afflicted arm from the elbow down. Toward the end of our conversation for this piece, Jamie paused and started to talk about how despite the convenience of crock pot cooking she still prefers to make her father’s chili in a pot on her stove top. “[There’s something] artistic about making his chili in a pot with my own two hands. It’s like I’m making the chili in a way he wasn’t able to at the end.”
Jamie’s story, like many others, reminds us that food is so much more than fuel to sustain the body. Food brings us together. We find commonality with food where we might otherwise find oddities. We can also connect to our past through food. However food serves you enjoy it to it’s fullest and as often as possible.