Hi Everyone, bearing your soul. Letting down your guard. Inviting someone into an intimate space. Being vulnerable. This is what you do when you make a decision to cook for others. The pressure is more intense when the invitation is to dine at the table in your home.
Food as many of us know is not just food; it is a metaphor for a lot of things in life. Food can be a metaphor for femininity or masculinity. Food can be a metaphor for nationality. Food can be a metaphor for ethnicity. Food can be a metaphor for class. What you cook, how you cook and how you serve it are all areas upon which one can be judged. Often what we cook or if we cook, are used by others to determine if we are woman enough, Guyanese enough, Caribbean enough or Indian, African, Chinese, Portuguese enough… etc. For example, we still live in a patriarchal society in the Caribbean and often it seems that no matter how we might personally define our success, it often comes down to if we can make a good roti, cook-up or a good macaroni pie.
Many people are crippled by the fear of being judged by their ability in the kitchen. This fear of failure is potent and thus many refuse to risk it no matter how successful they may be in all other aspects of their lives.
By now you’re probably thinking that you’ll never cook again, for anyone. Perhaps you’re wondering how you’ve been judged. And those of you thinking of venturing into home-cooked entertaining are shaking your head as I seem to have confirmed all your worst fears. That is not my intention. Rather, I want to make the point of letting others know how much thought, effort and bravado goes into preparing a meal. I want people to appreciate what a sincere, tender and generous gesture someone is making when s/he prepares a meal and serves it to them within his/her most private space, the home. An invitation to share a meal, to break bread at someone’s table, is not something to be taken lightly.
I like cooking for people in the privacy of my home. It’s an invitation to my table. Sure, I’m comfortable cooking for others because I cook often but that is not to say that on each occasion, there are not moments of trepidation. Whenever I cook for my mother I’m always waiting with bated breath for her evaluation. If I cook for people who are phenomenal cooks, I’m vigilant and on the alert for their reactions. And when I cook for people who themselves may not be comfortable in the kitchen but they know good food and have excellent taste, I pay rapt attention to their expressions and nuances as they eat. I generally start to relax about 5 – 10 minutes into the meal because by then I have a pretty good idea as to how they feel about the meal, often indicated not by what they say (because sometimes nothing is said) but more importantly by the state of their plates.
I do not get invited to other people’s home to eat a home-cooked meal often. The main reason is because people think that I’ll judge their food. And in a lot of cases they feel as if they will never be able to create anything close to the things that I talk about in my writings about food. It is an unfortunate situation that I find myself in but I reassure people all the time, and now I do so publicly in this column. I. Am. Not. A. Food. Snob. Whenever someone cooks for me I am very, very appreciative. To cook something and invite someone to share it at your table, for me, is one of the most sincere forms of saying I care about you. I like you.
Entertaining specialists always talk about putting your guests at ease. I think that it is equally important that guests put their hosts at ease. Recently, on a rare occasion of being invited to someone’s home for a meal, my hostess offered me my drink in a glass and I noticed that she drank hers from a mason jar. I have always loved the idea of serving drinks in mason jars but have never done so for fear of being judged as not having good taste or worse yet, no glasses. I told my hostess that I wanted my next drink in a mason jar. She explained that she would never have thought of offering me my drink in a mason jar because she didn’t want me to think that she had poor taste. Just that shared feeling put us both at ease and made the evening fun and relaxing.
Isn’t it crazy the things we apologise for when entertaining? For mismatched plates, glasses and cutlery; lack of a gravy boat and for only having instant coffee among other things. Take away all the perceived important trappings and you’re left with a communion that is unrivalled. Good food on its own is okay but good food with great company is exceptional.
Let’s work towards putting the focus where it belongs – on the fragile, tender moments shared when someone dares to make himself or herself vulnerable by preparing a meal for us. Let’s bask in the knowledge that we’re thought of fondly by the sheer effort that went into gathering the ingredients and creating a meal. Heck, let’s care enough that someone thought so highly of us that we’re invited to break bread with them at their table.