So strange. Now that my Fridays and Saturdays are essentially free, I suppose I’ll put this post out that I wrote in May before it is essentially a moot point.
I make no qualms about being Jewish, and now actually tend more to shout it out from a mountain top. I wasn’t always like this. I used to be more subdued, bordering on hiding the fact that I am Jewish. But two years of living in the Land of Milk and Honey – and a beautiful Israeli wife I brought back to the States with me – have had a big impact on my Jewish pride. I also happen to be at that age where many reconnect with their religion, but I don’t think I’m falling into that category. The truth of the matter, is that even though my wife and I keep a kosher home, I believe strongly that I was put on Earth to be a chef first, and a good Jew second. I also tend to shy away from any kind of establishment, religion included.
There is much about the two aspects of being a chef and a good Jew that collide head on in my world. For instance, the weekly holy day of rest from work known as Shabbat, lasts from sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday. These times are the busiest times in the restaurant industry, and the hours I most need to be in the kitchen. It is a sharp thorn in my side to not be able to be there with my family as they are lighting candles, doing blessings over the wine and bread, and enjoying each others company over a relaxed dinner. Traditionally, the man of the house is supposed to lead the festivities, and I feel a bizarre contradiction as I shirk from these responsibilities at the same time as I am fulfilling my responsibilities of providing for the food that is on their table. And though my wife and I knew what we were getting into when we signed the Ketubah (Jewish wedding contract), my two beautiful girls had no vote in the matter, and will have to grow up with this contradiction of a father who works on the holy day of rest and keeping a kosher home.
Which leads into the second contradiction: keeping a kosher household. I have never kept kosher before I met my wife, and I still don’t keep it outside of home. I love bacon, lobster, and cheeseburgers enough to believe that I never will. And I was sincerely disappointed when I ordered oysters while out for dinner with my wife a while back, and was told by her later that it made her sick to her stomach to even see me eat them. There is certainly something about religion that gets too close to brainwashing to me, but that’s for another topic.
So the reason this topic came into my head in the first place, was because I had a very thoughtful conversation with one of the rabbis at the synagogue my family attends. After the morning service, we were sitting over a cholent lunch, when he asked me to tell him a way that my profession as a chef correlates as a lesson back to Judaism.
I went on to explain to him that I believe there is no way to be closer to God than to be preparing the ingredients we have been blessed with. And while cooking and creating dishes, I try to look into each ingredient, see it for what it is, and listen to what it would like to be. If you can become one with the ingredient I explained, it can tell you how it wants to be prepared. Then all you have to do is treat it with care in the preparation and it can be lifted up to be more than what it was before. In short, let the ingredients shine on their own and not to be buried by other ingredients.
Hmmm… If you really consider that last sentence, and substitute ‘ingredients’ for ‘individuals’, isn’t that true of mankind in general? Don’t we all want our essence to rise up and not be buried in impertinence? How we are treated as empty vessels as children relates directly to who we become as adults, for better or worse.
I also explained to him that when I am ‘feeling the love’, I can become one with the ingredients and the results are almost always wonderful. When I do not have that focus or passion running through me however, I have learned to just stay away from creating until I feel it better. Forcing – though necessary at times – is not a good thing for my spirit, and can frequently wind up with me slamming doors, throwing pots or plates, and primal screaming like Kurt Cobain.
The reason I began writing on this subject in the first place was because I felt his response was very profound. I was ready for something to lead back to the coming of the Messiah, perhaps get a little lecture on the virtues of keeping kosher, or maybe even a stern condemnation of the fact that I would need to leave the synagogue soon, break the Shabbat, and go to work to cook for those hungry guests dining out tonight.
What I received was this short and powerful message: We are all blessed with a spirit and a body, but it is the nourishment of food that brings the two of them together. Your body is forever on the earth, but your soul is of another plane. It is from nourishment that your body can be lifted to fly, and the spirit can share in the magical pleasures of the Good Earth.
And this is the connection. Sure it can be said that other art forms – or even religion – can perform the same feats. But here is the difference with nourishment: When people are hungry there is little consideration for anything other than food. And when we are really thirsty, a glass of water can feel as euphoric as any epiphany. Every form of nourishment, from fast food to fine dining correlates to spirituality – or lack thereof – equally.
Just some food for thought from an unexpected angle.