It was a working vacation. Me, assigned to interview cookbook author Patricia Wells at her
Food as a Gateway to Culture
One of the things that I enjoy is great food. But what makes a great food experience is the context in which the food is consumed. For me, that context should include interesting people and conversation. Despite living in a small town suburb I have learned that if you look hard enough, you can find not only interesting people to share great food experiences, but discover cultural insights.
About 2 years ago, I began to meet a series of working class couples through my kids’ private school that shared a love of good food and travel. What we found in our group is that we had a really neat and diverse set of food cultures represented across just 6 couples: Italian, Sicilian, Czech, German and French. In the case of one of the couples, he was a naval commander stationed in Sicily for 5 years and married a wonderful woman from the Czech Republic. In another, the husband grew up in Germany and his mother still lives there – thus, he has a steady supply of great German recipes flowing from her on a monthly basis. Yet in another, was a teacher at our kids’ school who grew up in Rome as his father was a missionary. Each couple has an amazing story of how they were drawn to Europe, lived a modest upbringing, and food was the currency in which love was shown and experiences were shared.
As I got to know them through social functions, I began to realize we were kindred spirits. Though we all live in a small south Texas town where Mexican food rules the local menus, we all craved more food diversity and thus an old school idea emerged: the supper club. Our idea with the supper club was to get together once per month and a different host home. With six couples, that meant each couple only had to host twice in a year – which meant not a lot of burden. The host couple would cook a meal from their cultural background and share a bit of insight about the food and/or great stories of eating it was part of their growing up. It didn’t matter that some couples had cooking skills and others did not, as each prepared food within the limits of their skills and imagination. Likewise, as attendees to these get-togethers, the point wasn’t to judge the food and make the host couple feel nervous – but rather to enjoy the new flavors, new stories, and wonderful cultural insights.
With each monthly gathering, new stories were shared and friendships built. From regional wines, grappa and liquors, to local desserts and cultural customs, we found that we had created an oasis of culinary diversity amongst an otherwise uninspiring restaurants. Each gathering had become an unscripted adventure and mere acquaintances had become dear friends and conversations invariably allowed us to relive childhood or adult travels through the lens of the foods we enjoyed in those moments. With each passing month, couples who said “we can’t cook” began to research recipes and venture into the unknown of spending more time in their kitchen. With each small food victory came inspiration to try new recipes.
We’ve all seen it at one time or another and as the missed culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain often remarked: food is a common language that brings people together. I’ve been fortunate to be around the team at LeSauce and have seen the passion they have for inspiring others to plot their own journey to discover great food experiences (regardless of cooking skills). Their little glass bottles of finishing sauce goodness is their way of kick-starting the process.
Remember this: where ever you live is the perfect place to begin a great food experience.