It was late into the lunch hour, there was only one or two other tables that still had diners and they were already puffing on their cigarettes, when the gruff, white haired waiter set the platter of grilled sardines in front of me. The gorgeous scent of charred fish skin seduced my palate, the puddle of olive oil invited me to take the first bite. I didn’t know a sardine could taste like that.
"I raised to my lips a forkful of the grilled sardine . . . a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place." – my apologies to Marcel Proust.
Alone, in Paris. Maybe it was my first time in Paris, I can’t remember now, but I know I was alone and missing him, my dining companion. It was late into the lunch hour, there were only one or two other tables that still had diners and they were already puffing on their cigarettes, when the gruff, white haired waiter set the platter of grilled sardines in front of me. The gorgeous scent of charred fish skin perfumed the plate, the puddle of olive oil invited me to take the first bite. I didn’t know a sardine could taste like that. It tasted of the sea, but rich and oily reminding me of Sunday morning mackerel breakfasts I shared with my father. I thought I sighed out loud with pleasure, but my face must have betrayed my loneliness. The waiter returned, reached for the inside of my wrist and gently rubbed it, while asking, “Ca va?”. “Was I OK?” The warmth of that intimate caress melted away my sadness and I laughed and said I was fine. And I really was fine. I was tasting each bite, secretly remembering each flavor, stealing his recipe, so that when I went home I would be able to make it and share it.
It was one of those crystalline moments when an experience changes everything. Instead of being alone, I now had a mission: to bring those flavors home so that I could share them. Maybe it began then. I can’t remember now, but I started carrying around a notebook and made notes of flavor combinations. I studied the way a chef would play with texture and color. I came up with outrageous ideas for experiments when I went home. I was a sponge and a thief, lifting ideas like a knockoff artist at a fashion show.
Of course, the trouble with a dinner in Paris is that it can only be had in Paris, and instead of copying a dish, I was riffing off what I had tasted, making the dish my own. Years later, a chef instructor would tell me “You are the sum of what you have tasted.” He meant I was building a tool box of cooking knowledge bit by bit.
While I was off having my food epiphany, somebody, maybe Al Gore, I don’t remember, invented the internet. With one click we could tell the world everything we ate for dinner! It was a time of great liberation and once the Great God Google was in our midst, we could ask the most esoteric question about the flowering cycle of saffron. And lo! Someone would know the answer. Creative, generous, curious people were sharing their culinary knowledge in forums and on blogs and a global community of the food obsessed evolved.
The reason I have such a bad memory is that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen feeding people. So I tend to forget things like dates and who invented the internet. A kitchen full of people is my idea of heaven.
Jeff and I are the luckiest people in the world because whether we are in Italy, NYC or Snowbird Utah, we have a “family” of friends to share our table. Some people are good at chopping, dicing and splicing, some people are good at telling stories while the rest of us are cooking, and thank god, some people are good at clean up. Everyone is welcome as long as you aren’t boring. If you are boring…you can’t come back.
This blog is an extension of what goes on in our kitchen. It’s a place to hang out, share recipes, photos, food politics, culinary history. It’s lively, sometimes loud and opinionated, but we always have a good time. If we are lucky, Jeff will be pouring us a cocktail to get the party started. So, if you are new to Aroma Cucina: Bienvenuti! Welcome!
If you are a regular, no, I didn’t lose my mind and have a sudden need to tell our secrets to the world. This post is part of the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog and we have some new people in the kitchen, so behave, ok?