Is food really love? Well, that’s what the young cook’s tattoo read… don’t know if I agree, but perhaps food makes you feel loved? Or, better yet, if you’re very hungry, I’d agree food could be love. Food has almost become a deity unto itself these days with various foods like bacon, ham and sides of beef showing up in the oddest places as if they are golden idols erected for worship. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of the above and have enjoyed them my entire life, but as anyone who has raised pigs as I do knows, they definitely are not God or Love. Anyone who has been around professional kitchens these days knows exactly what I am talking about in regards to pig, pork, beef butchery charts and bacon tattooed all over the damn body, but why digress. (And no, I am not anti-tattoo. I was a young US Marine once who wanted the Eagle Globe and Anchor tattooed on my arm, but didn’t have the money or the heart.)
Perhaps I first thought about food and love in the same context watching my grandmother cooking for all of us. Or maybe it was smelling the aroma of Mom’s speckled trout melding with the toasted almonds and brown butter in the pan. Or the first time I sat with Rudy Baur and ate white asparagus just cut from the soil, poached and served with Bayonne ham and buttery hollandaise.
One thing I am certain of is that the effort and the nobility of both cooking for and serving others is in fact love. As I think of cooking today, it’s cooking for those that appreciate it that really gives me pleasure. So perhaps food, unlike love, is a two-way street. To do this well, and to cook with such love takes humility. That’s an increasingly difficult ingredient to find, even on the shelves of Fauchon, my favorite food store in Paris. But the humility behind great food and service is in fact a French commodity. Ok, ok, you have your pessimists out there that think differently, but, in my life, it’s been the French like Jean Pierre Beraud who taught me so much through his actions of the nobility of humility that fosters both great food and service. To be welcomed into his home, as a young, poor American cook, was and still is such an honor. In spite of my numerous faux pas, he made my wife and I feel like royalty at the table, time and time again. Perhaps that was my first experience since childhood at grandmother’s that I experienced so much humility and hospitality through food. Like my friend Rudy of Provence, neither were chefs in the formal culinary sense, but both are masters of the ability to use grace and humility to season a meal. By watching them, I learned worlds about both food and myself.
Chef John Besh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.