22 April 2010

The Tipping Point

I have been thinking of Tipping Points a lot.

A tipping point is defined as "...the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.." Immediately one can see the universality of the term. It is in fact applied in many fields such as in a. marketing- when a virtually unknown product becomes a household name b. politics- when people reach the humanly acceptable amount of bullshit before they attempt to overthrow a government (something which we Filipinos are all too familiar with) c. physics- the change from a state of equilibrium into a new and different state. And then of course, there is my definition and application of the concept to food and relationships in general.

In my exclusively amateur observation, I believe two kinds of tipping points may happen in any given event. One which may approach greatness, glory and everything good in this world while the other may point to the direction of complete nuclear annihilation. It can be that only one of the two may occur but it is not impossible that both happen one right after the other. In my epicurean world, this may be exemplified when 1. an ordinary chunk of meat is transformed to a rib-sticking, comforting, soul-moving stew and 2. when the very same stew becomes an unidentifiable pot of brown mush--an example of both tipping points happening in one continuous event.

In my experience, there are times I would be baking a cookie or cake and I look at it from outside of the oven and say to myself, maybe five more minutes. Five minutes later I am throwing away what could have been name-forgetting cookies which have now become curse inducing ones. It really takes only but a second or two for the moment of greatness to pass you by. You bake the cookie too long, it gets burned. You take it out too soon, and your cookie comes out raw. And that, as we all know it, is how the cookie always crumbles.

It is much, much more difficult though dealing with relationships. People are so much more complicated and unpredictable than baking ingredients damnit. You can't just stick a thermometer in them and say, alrighty this one here's just about right. There are too many nuisances and peculiarities with us human beings that French wines are goddamn bullet points compared to us. But knowing a thing or two about tipping points can do you some good, because as earlier mentioned, it can either lead to something poetically sublime or something even Hades will reject as it's own offspring.

Take for example when a shallow acquaintance becomes a life-changing, life-long friendship-- that is good. But when a perfectly aseptic, platonic relationship turns into an ember-smoldering love affair--that could be bad. It could be VERY bad. Looking forward to the next meeting where this boy is going to be there, the purchase of stilettos meant to lift your derierre when you have been living in your (egads) crocs the last 5 years, the extra five seconds of laughter for a just-okay-joke... these are significant details that point to the fact that a tipping point is being approached. Or not. At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we wait too long to say hello and before we know it, the husband or wife of our dreams is married to someone else. Or-what could have been saved in friendship is now lost along with invectives that might not have been said had we found the courage to say goodbye earlier on.

Now let me just remind you that I am just a cook with a terrible case of insomnia. I have been known to trudge head-on proverbial hail or high water, walk across burning coals and tread waters with signs that say "piranhas, sharks and box jellyfish breed here" -not that they actually coexist. And I am the last specimen of human being to claim that I am the Confucius of relationships (Confused-Yes! Confucius-Hell no!). But all I am saying is that one could benefit from being aware of these tipping points. If you do want something to happen, then increase the heat of the oven of your heart (or any other anatomical part of your liking depending on your objectives). If you don't want things to happen, sometimes it is just okay to stay put. Yet other times, you might have to do a Forrest Gump and run like the wind the exact opposite way.

The point about tipping points is this: Once you've crossed it, there is just no turning back. If you take out a burnt cookie, you can't return it in the oven to try and resuscitate it back to edible land. Likewise, once you've crossed the point and you've taken the steps into elevating your friendship into something else, you can not undo that. You change and so does everything and everyone else. So if you are going to cross that point, you had better be sure that it is what you want. And if you're not sure, like most of the time I'm not, stick to baking cookies and making stews. You'll have a better chance of warming someone's heart and soothing a weary soul--Yours.

13 April 2010

Who Can Cook

I am no food or culinary guru, let's get that out. But by some strange alignment of the planets and the stars, not too far back, I found myself guesting in an afternoon talk show where I managed to make a complete blundering fool of myself thereby dismissing any possible future for me in TV. Even the cameraman thought so. He told MY waiter whom I brought to assist me during the cooking segment, that my answer to the question the host asked, went twice around the world and landed in Mars. Well, I sure hope he never sees a time when my hands will have to be responsible for the meal he will be about to eat.

Anyway the question was, and this was the first question she asked..."Had I acquired my cooking skills through heredity or through studying". I suppose I could have given some safe answer like "Both hereditary and academic" but my neurons immediately went into a rabid debate at the speed of a hundred words per ten seconds. I said something about the fact that my Mum- who by the way is an excellent cook- was born in Vietnam, moved to the Philippines, migrated to Canada and finally set-up camp on the shores of the United States before she came to visit us in '97. (So you see my answer did go around the world. Once.) The point was, I practically grew up without her. We did not speak with each other for a very long time and I was uncomfortable and hesitant to give her biological contribution any credit to whatever cooking skills I may have acquired. However, some credit must be due her because it was her absence that lead to my long standing affair with food.

Some people are fortunate enough to have had grandmothers or mothers that have taught and nurtured in them the love and skill for this art. I didn't. I grew up thinking that the oven was another place for hiding plates and the refrigerator an appliance for cooling water and making ice. Such is a house run by a lawyer with six kids. Nevertheless, it was a happy and crazy house with many stories both funny and surreal. But I digress, that's another topic. I was quite literally thrown into the fire by my father and so my skills and love for food were primarily born out of necessity.

But as soon as I've served my first meal, I knew that I was stricken and smitten by the kitchen gods. I felt they were smiling down at me knowing that I was theirs for the taking. I actually thought I saw my father's eyes smile like he smiled from the inside as well. And by the time he said "very good" my mind was already wandering, thinking of what I should be cooking next.

Now I believe that there isn't a long list of requirements for one to be a good cook. I think that if you are the kind of person who likes to make people happy, then I'm sure you would enjoy and do well in cooking. Never mind if you've never even fried a hot dog in your life because I could be wrong, but I don't think it is genetic, this skill. It's different from singing where one can actually inherit either musicality or being completely tone deaf. If you're
sintunado, that's pretty much it. If you can't find a rhythm to save your life, like say Kris Aquino, I'd encourage you to find some other way to make a living. But in cooking, you may screw up making something but that can immediately be corrected the next time you try making it. It's the kind of thing where the cliche practice makes perfect actually applies. However,and this is very important, the desire to perfect something comes with copious amounts of passion that can only come with love. And that, my friend, one does not learn in school.

I think it is more than biological and/or academic to have desire in your heart to elevate eating to dining... to want to unite and strengthen relationships over a well planned meal. You have something else in there when you can imagine conversations, lit candles, nice plates and a perfectly bubbling onion soup in the oven among other things. That is what makes a meal linger in the minds and hearts of guests long after the last plate is tucked in the recesses of your china cabinet.

While I may have no remembrances of warm cooking expeditions of the maternal type, I find that I am still fortunate because it is in that absence, that I found the other love of my life. I am fortunate because I have been blessed to create new memories for my family to go back to when we are all old and gray, when our children would have had children of their own. The road ahead is indeed paved with many more food stories that are waiting to be written. I am looking forward and truly honored to be writing these stories with you.