Cooks, cookery, and a last meal

This interview and story about Thomas Keller is well worth a listen. He understands food, eating, recipes, taste, and love.

Thomas Keller is the French Laundry guy - but down the street from French Laundry is the restaurant Ad Hoc, where there are no menu choices. You just order dinner, and you get what the cook's cooking - just like home. I'd take this guy's dinner choices any day! Keller has written this new cookbook, in which
Mr. Keller leads with his heart. He dedicates it to his brother Joseph and lays out in loving, exacting detail the recipes for the last meal he made his father. He reminds readers that life is better when you eat together with family and friends.
So I started looking around a bit. Well! No wonder I liked listening to Keller talk about food! He's yet another person connected to Michael Ruhlman, "the food writer who has been Mr. Keller’s voice on paper in each of his cookbooks."

Figures. I bet that if I looked for the various cooks Ruhlman has been associated with, I could outfit my own cookbook shelf with the best of the best and never need to look anywhere else for suggestions. I swear, Ruhlman's got a sixth sense about cooks and cookery. Flawless instinct, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, Keller's cookbook includes the details of that last meal. He has the sense and awareness - and fearlessness - to face what that meal taught him, as a cook and as a man. (Here's the NY Times article.) He talks about food that way - he says that you have to let go of fear, feel the food, love what you're doing. Never mind the burns, you'll learn. It's okay. Touch it.

Life is like that. It's delicious if you can let go of the fear. Never mind the burns. It's okay. Touch it.

Keller's words have connected me to something very large. We cook within a context, after all, and I'm a mom. And today is Veteran's Day. Before the horrible events at Fort Hood and all the news coverage, I didn't know about the custom of calling the roll, listening to the gut wrenching silence when each fallen soldier's name is called ... and not answered ... or not answered in a world where we can hear it, anyway.

And my daughter is in Afghanistan and may be moved to a different post. There is no way to know if I have already cooked the last thing I will ever cook for her, or if, like Keller's dad, she'll come home and live out her life in peace and safety. Her being there reminds me every day, at random moments, that there is also no way to know if my sons will ever come home, or if my husband will come home today for that matter. We never know. Life is like that. The part of me that weeps at the shattering silences in roll calls knows that life is like that. Knows, weeps ... and accepts because you have to let go of the fear, and never mind the burns, and go ahead and love.

When people ask me about my daughter, and whether it bothers me that she's in the Army, I always say, "Yes, of course. I'm worried about her every day. But I taught my children that everybody dies. What matters is why you lived." I taught them to never mind the burns - so I dance with glee when one of my sons says, "I totally blew it -- next time, what I want to do is ...." Go ahead, kids. Touch it. Life is scary sometimes, and sometimes you get burned, and you never know which meal will have been your last. It's all true.

And I promise you that Thomas Keller is right. "You learn by not being afraid, by not being intimidated by the food - just getting in there and enjoying it." And if the meal you just cooked turns out to be the last one with that person? "It's one of those things that happen, and in retrospect you feel blessed that that happened." Blessings on you, kids. And blessings on me. And never mind the burns.


Eva said...

Lovely post, Stephanie. Thanks for the reminder to live life to the full and not be scared. We never know which meal will be our last, or the last we prepare for a loved one.

I didn't know about the calling of the roll, either. Is that done on Veteran's Day, or whenever a soldier has not returned?

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Eva. I can't listen to it again myself, but the YouTube link to the roll call is here:

I have a suspicion they do this when they come home -- and there would be a lot of gaps in the 5th Stryker Brigade even if they came home now. Egad. I just thought of that. The Deployment Ceremonies were tough ... but the return? Oh lordy.