My mom is an amazing cook. Lots of people say that about their moms, but mine really is. She’s also a serious eater, and I was the only person in the family who shared her eclectic and adventurous taste for food. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of sitting in restaurants with my mother, and listening while she carefully tasted new foods and parsed the ingredients. She taught me to recognize and memorize the textures, tastes, colors, scents, and the shape of foods, training me as a young cook with same intensity and enthusiasm she devoted to explaining the modern art she loved to collect. She taught me to think about wine, and not just to drink it. To look for complexity and layers in dishes. To identify the spice palettes and techniques of regional cuisines. I’m not sure where she got her passion from, because nobody else in the family was a foodie like that, but I’m grateful I got the benefit of it.
I also learned the recipes and techniques of an almost endless series of roommates during the years I lived in communal houses in college and graduate school and after. There is nothing to train the palette and to broaden culinary horizons like cooking for and with a dozen people with different tastes and food traditions, in every-changing combinations, week after week and year after year. I also learned to cook regional cuisines by trading dinners with friends, by trying new restaurants and not being shy about talking to chefs, and by endless reading. Often I learned a cuisine by balancing what I read in cookbooks with critiques from friends who pushed me until I turned a book recipe into one that tasted to them of home. Food, for me, has always been love; feeding people is a way of expressing my love for them, and being fed by others is a kind of grace. My partner now is Turkish, and I’m just as delighted with the new foodscape he’s opened up for me as I am with the new ideas and perspectives he shares.
You’re certainly welcome to come along for the ride…
—Kali Tal (Bern, Switzerland)