"Few things are as precious as the act of dining. It was one of our species first communal events. Eating, one of our most basic life sustaining acts, was one of togetherness.
Later, as we settled into farms and cities, few events occurred where food was not involved.
Even today, in the west, our special events are accompanied by dining together. In love, your first date probably involved dinner. Few things are more scarce than an empty seat in a fine restaurant on Valentines day.
In business, we meet over lunch. At night, we meet with our families, and we dine.
Few things are as overlooked as an invitation to dine with someone. To say "I want to share this moment, this life sustaining act, with you."
For a chef, it is the ultimate compliment. For any cook. Whether it is a fast food establishment, or the most upscale white linen eatery, it is an honor for someone to enter into your company, ask you to cook for them and the people they love.
They may not realize it, but as cooks, we should never forget it what it means."
- Chef James "Big Will" Crippen
A really good chef friend of mine wrote that for me. Well, actually, he called me a couple years ago and told me that... and a few years later, here I am still thinking about those words - and how true they are. How... So... True...
Consider this if you will. In 2014, the average American ate 1 in 5 meals in the car, 1 in 4 meals from a fast food establishment, 1 meal together as a family per week, and spent as much on eating out as groceries! What Happened?!? In the modern age of convenience and I have to have it now, it seems as a people we've been willing to make some sacrifices - food being a major one of them. The days of mom yelling out in the street, "Dinner's Ready" as my calling card to come home, scrub up, and park myself at the dinner table are over (Behind the ears was only a requisite when my grandmother lived with us). Convenience is key, and advertisers are very convincing that without it, we'd fall apart at the seams. Quick. Fast. Now. The mantra of time times.. The song of our people! As a country, we've gotten really good at eating alone and on the go, and Donna Reed would be pissed.
Not only is eating alone generally more unhealthy, (Applebees is currently changing their marketing strategy and model and moving to larger portion, cheaper comfort foods), but it is also extremely alienating. The dinner table was the center of the dining room, the place where families got communal, talked about their days, laughed and cried - the original place where "things got real!" Now its just where we throw our coats and laptop bags on the way in the door, in a frenzied hurry to go resume whatever we were binging on Netflix. I used to look forward to dinnertime. Believe it or not, I enjoyed it as a kid. But not only that, it was physical and physiological, two basic human elements that were met in addition to getting a fat & happy belly. But now we don't have time to cook - There's never enough time! The phone never stops ringing, and Amazon doesn't order itself. I get it. We need to save time and money - and food on the go is an easy alternative.
But lets not forget that humans are the only species of animal that not only associates rituals around food, but also takes hunger into consideration of other humans that are not even related to us. That's pretty spectacular! So then, what's to happen to the dinner table? Well, according to recent industry reports, the sales of dining room tables, as well as, plates, platters, serving utensils, and cutlery are down. As we as Americans take to the streets for our nourishment, seeking meals that are quick, on the go, and portable, we are seemingly forgetting to give thanks to each other, and also forgetting about the intimate nature of eating with each other, at home. A person's home is his or her sanctuary, and to let someone into your castle comes with a feeling or vulnerability which somehow is alleviated with food. The dinner table is where we can feel the most uninhibited and least restricted. Give that a thought this thanksgiving while you are communing with people that maybe you do not see very often. Think about inviting them over for a meal sometime - make it a new dinner tradition! To finish this off, I can only think of one quote to send this away with...
From one of my favorite movies of all time, "The Shawshank Redemption",
"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry." - Brooks Hatlen.
Oh and to finish the story from the beginning. James called me one day and used that as his "why" of why he was leaving the restaurant business and going back to school. Him and I and many many others are part of a group that gave it 20 years and realized that we had gotten so far removed from the relationships with the customer - the reason we got into this in the first place - and had fallen into the trap of spending 18 hours a day for 6-7 days a week, every week, week after week, forever in a kitchen and decided that for our sanity, we needed out. Luckily, I met an amazing woman that shares the same passion for food that I do, and we also share the same ideals about food and community, and we are here to protect the dinner table with all our might against those nasty fast food restaurants and unhealthy, fatty, caloric, and ultra processed foods that we get out of convenience. In the spirit of that, this weeks recipes are not about Thanksgiving, that's too limiting. But three easy recipes that you can prepare comfortably and quickly at home, to eat at home, with your family - AT THE DINNER TABLE, any time of the year. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!