of kitchens and kinfolk

I leave the house and head to the catering kitchen in the very early morn, when most folks haven’t yet rolled over to shut off the alarm. I like this time of day, this silent communion with the birds, this quiet before the streets become populated and car engines smoke and drone. I like this time of new beginnings, the possibility that even the routine of traveling to work can be offset by surprise: turning to find a garden I’ve never noticed before; the split second capture of a dog pulling its owner through sleepy, early morning paces; or a mother walking through the shade of trees, carrying a babe, soft and plump against her chest.

And I like what I’m doing this summer, this creating of food, this working with my hands and instinct. I love the abundant colour and bright pops of flavour that jump on my tongue: more lime, more cilantro, another small, cupped handful of zest, and many more hot chillies, tart, fragrant lemons, lashings of salty tamari, and cups filled with sweet, raw honey.

I love this work, and have finally begun to fully trust my instincts and talent. But like any pursuit that so completely demands every part of us be engaged in the process of creating, it is tiring work. Late in the day my body feels the rippling effect of soreness that begins in my feet, pauses to seize my knees, hovers as a dull ache in my low back, catches with a twang between my shoulder blades, stiffens my neck and pulls taut my finger joints. Yet I push through it. We all do in the kitchen, each of us a little more battered than the week, the month, the year before. The coming undone happens later, when I stand in a state of surrender under the pulse of a shower head, or slip slowly into a claw foot tub.

Cooking in a restaurant often entails a near state of emergency, best summed up by a phrase so dreaded, and smacking of intensity: always having a “sense of urgency. Every moment, every action in a busy kitchen is charged with tension. Where fast is never fast enough and a weak link can destroy the chain of service. That sort of environment delivers an adrenaline rush that is (like so many other hazards of the industry) highly addictive. I’ve felt incredible elation at having pulled through screeching busy nights, a sense of comrades-in-arms getting through the shit of it all. But I don’t thrive in that environment, where the pressure is constant and tempers ignite like land mines suddenly tripped. I can hold my own against those challenges, but I nearly left the industry at one time, because those conditions were bringing out the venom in me. Because I didn’t want a relationship with food on those terms.

I wanted a different pace, a different  experience of collaboration. I wanted a new project—this summer’s challenge. One that is a patchwork of catering opportunities:  corporate events, smaller, intimate gatherings, a stall at the farmer’s market, co-running a small café, and retail opportunities in development. It’s just as demanding in terms of hours worked (a five-minute break, if ever, in a ten-hour day) but a “sense of urgency” doesn’t mean being in a constant state of fight or flight, or enduring the shock waves of tantrums.

Cooking and baking as I experience it now is still about achieving large volumes within a very tight timeline. But there’s more time to simply breathe. To notice how my senses are heightened by colour, taste and texture. To connect with the earthy, heady scent of fresh ingredients. To feel excited about opportunities in a kitchen alive with passion and experience—and laughter. Food is anything but gorgeous when the process of creating it feels charged with tension. There’s a meditative quality to measuring, counting, sifting … mixing, kneading, rolling and stirring. I like the sensation of flours and grains in my bare hands, and the weight of an old wooden pin rolling over and over. I love the fluid, repetitive motion of chopping, and the steady hum of a mixer whose bowl-belly is heavy with ingredients combined with care.

I rarely write about work in these pages. From the outset, my blog was a buffer from that, a place of retreat instead from the intensity of that experience—a chance to recharge. The odd camera came into the restaurant kitchen, but it never belonged to anyone who cooked. Even so, I loved seeing photos of food I had made. I liked being able to take a step back and appreciate the fullness of that experience and see it from another angle. So, I have a hunch that in the near future a camera might enter this new kitchen in my hands!

All of which brings me to a video from the collaborators at Kinfolk Magazine. One that so exquisitely captures the essence of what it means to experience the making of food as an act of meditation and sharing. I watched this when I arrived home from work yesterday, and it instantly lured me away from that place of bone-crushing fatigue, and transported me to a state of complete transcendence. There is the shoosh of flour in the bowl … the patting and rolling of dough … and the best part of all, sticks and twisty bread creations, and a camp fire!

Are you ready for a bit of bliss?

video courtesy of : kinfolk magazine

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