My grandmother made the most fantastic food. She died over ten years ago, but my memories - the smell! - of her cooking live with me today. I believe they have defined a large part of who I am.
Her recipes are so unique and special. For so many years of my childhood, I thought there was something she did that was so unique about her cooking. She never kept recipes. Some of her ways lived inside her. While no one could cook like her, she was always willing to help someone try. She was incredibly giving.
One of my favorite dishes was [redacted: confidential and proprietary]. When I was 13, my grandmother taught it to me. She was of [redacted] descent. I didn't realize how easy it was to make [redacted], because it was full of complex flavors. Little did I know that the secret wasn't much. It was just a little extra [redacted] and a touch of [redacted] - no, seriously! - [redacted].
As the years passed, I kept that recipe, but my skills where nothing to write home about. (I once burned out a $50 sauce pot because I forgot I was boiling water. No joke.)
Contrary to what you might think, her teaching me "all she knew" didn't make me a professional cook. She still had many years of unique experiences on me. While the recipe was locked in my memory and I knew the secret sauce was [redacted] she was still the expert.
It's incredible to think, what if she never shared it with me and it died with her? What if her significant culinary innovations were held so tightly behind lock and key that no one could ever get better? What if she never gave up what she knew or taught others how she learned it? What if she kept it confidential, private, and proprietary?
I wouldn't be the cook I am today without her willingness to share what she knew. Her skill was never in the written recipe; it was in the experience she brought to the craft. Her willingness to mentor me, share with me, and trust me, was what gave me a foundation to build something of my own that was different - not better.
She's still the expert.
| Photo credit JOSHUA COLEMAN