Refueling a Love Affair with My Kitchen

Peppers

In the past few months my usual high-spirited love for all things culinary related had hit an all time low. I worried that it was emblematic of my general inability to keep an interest in something longer than a few months. Aside from travel and food, most things in my life fall into this category. I continued to cook and bake, but didn’t enjoy it as much as usual, and while nothing I made was bad, I think, I do believe my lack of interest reflected in the quality. Perhaps I was busy with other things. But, cooking and baking has always been my refuse from the world, and though I’d get occasional sparks of inspiration, it didn’t happen often. I had stopped perusing my usual blogs. In part, I’m sure being outside the US, where everything I know culinary wise exists was hard. But, it was also a bit sad, to lose a bit of something I loved so much. 

Turns out, I just need a little reminder about what I loved about it in the first place. This weekend, I took an espresso class offered by one of the few places in town that serves up world-class coffee. I had signed up for it because I love coffee, and consider my home-brew skills to be of a decent standard, but didn’t feel I properly appreciated or understood it. For me, cooking is all about science. I get far more excited about it when I understand the science behind what’s happening. It’s why I love baking so much. It’s basically a laboratory science that produces delicious results (and as a previous microbiology nerd-that’s pretty great). It’s difficult for me to know, or appreciate why I’m say-brewing my coffee at 92.5 degrees C unless I understand the science behind why. Coffee, and espresso has always seemed a pinnacle of perfection to me. Anyone can brew a bad cup from a good bean. But to achieve a great cup, or shot, requires a lot more. And there is so much science (and art) involved! Not that one must understand it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Within the first hour of the class there were graphs and apps to input outputs and refractometer readings. Formulas balancing pressure, temperature, grind, and output. Basically, my nerdy version of heaven. Now, for most people, this would seem like overkill. Who cares that much about coffee? But for me, and this is true of everything I bake, cook, create-it’s about the process. It’s about the intricate details that alter the end result, and by understanding these details one can manipulate them to produce something entirely different, something exceptional. The joy is in the journey. The delicious cup at the end is just a perk. In the world of coffee I needed training. The tasting lessons enabled me to understand these differences and appreciate my method more at home. And, truly a perfect cup of coffee is something remarkable. I know people don’t like this, they think it’s elitist, or caring too much. But really, it’s something special. Every bit of the process involved with coffee will ultimately affect its taste, and not in subtle ways. It’s just incredibly unique. And creating an excellent cup or shot is extremely satisfying.

The class went until three, but I spent and hour and a half afterwards asking questions, I had so many, and many more I could have asked. I was the last to leave. It was astounding to me. In most things when an instructor asks if I have any questions my mind goes blank. It isn’t as if I don’t have questions I could ask, but my interest level isn’t high enough to prompt my mind to stay engaged. Plus, I’m quite introverted and have a hard time speaking up in group settings-so it takes a lot for me to ask questions. The exception to this academically is usually anything related to nutrition, which is my focus in grad school. Clearly, I have very specific interests. I left the class excited in a way I hadn’t felt in ages. Not to say I all of a sudden want to be a barista-I don’t particularly, but it re-sparked a passion I had forgotten about.  I’ve been struggling for the past few years to carve out a niche for myself in this world. Hello, plight of being a 20-something. The biggest obstacle was accepting that whatever I ended up doing, it needed to be creative. This was surprising to me, my only interests career wise for most of my life was in the hard sciences. But what I didn’t understand, is that science is so deeply entrenched in the culinary world that my training had provided me an excellent background for understanding food. And further, my interest in travel, sociology, and the desire to help others could be integrated into my eventual career as well. Perhaps not in the most traditional sense, or in ways I initially imagined, but all of my interests have continued to grow and merge and the path forward is becoming more clear. I had no reason to worry, of course, it is all coming together.

It has be hard, to admit that my interests in life don’t amount to the likelihood of stability or high income generation (although, it certainly can). Or that my path is not one of traditional prestige. I’ve gotten over the need to feel important, or successful in the way it is defined in the US. But it’s been hard to shake those deeply rooted ideas. But I’m continuing to learn that none of this matters. That to do something, for the sake of external validation is the utmost in ridiculous behavior. And that constantly looking forward, instead of at the present will amount to nothing more than suffering. Not to say future considerations are irrelevant, but that the present is far more important-it is after all the only reality. The arts, like dance or music have seemed to me the ultimate example of ideal existence. In neither, is the point about arriving, but about existing in the moment, it is about the process. The point of music is never to reach the end. Just as in travel, it is the journey, not the destination that matters. So a reminder of what sparks passion in my life is a reminder to focus on the journey, not the final destination. Something I can’t anticipate or know I’ve reached anyway. Besides, I already have been granted one of the most astounding gifts in life; the opportunity to make these choices. So, I’d better take advantage of such a gift, it is a rarity in this world, indeed.

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