I recently had lunch with a friend who offered to give me a series of cooking lessons – for free, of course. I am very interested in organic food and in eating whole foods free of artificial ingredients. I am eagerly awaiting the chance to learn from my friend, who is an excellent cook and extremely health conscious. I know the lessons will be an opportunity to connect with her on a new level. I have also learned quite a few recipes from my mother. Watching as she showed me how to prepare some of my favorite dishes from childhood has been invaluable.
There is something unique about teaching someone a new recipe. Sharing a meal can be an incredible bonding experience. Food is, of course, fundamental to life, and sharing this life-giving experience with those you care about is powerful. Teaching someone to prepare a meal, especially if it is someone close to you, takes that bonding to another level. Recipes that are handed down contain the history of the teacher, the student, and the families and cultures that have prepared that recipe in the past. When we teach a new recipe to someone, we bring that person into our life’s story, and they become a part of that history, as well.
An organization in San Francisco called the Culture Kitchen recognizes the importance of passing on recipes and cooking techniques. Culture Kitchen is a cooking school that hires recent immigrants – not professional chefs – to teach students how to prepare authentic dishes from their countries. The school recognizes that the kind of wisdom inherent in cooking is special and profound, but easily forgotten if not passed on.
The type of knowledge and wisdom required to prepare delicious meals is unique because so many cultural traditions are centered around food. From lavish Thanksgiving dinners to grabbing lunch with a friend at a favorite café, food is a conduit for evoking memories and histories. Passing on a recipe, therefore, is about much more than the food. It is about sharing a bit of oneself with another.