19 June 2011

The Memory of Taste

Jacques Pepin once said something to the effect that a recipe is a guide to the memory of taste.  That when a cook writes down a recipe, he or she writes it with certain reference to the situation of an ingredient.  For example, if you follow a recipe for Osso Buco, the recipe would perhaps say that it needed a kilo of ripe tomatoes that have never seen the insides of a refrigerator (as my recipe would say).  But depending on how much love, care, sunlight and water your tomatoes received, or if the farmer's truck broke down on the way to market and got rained upon, the amount of tomato and likewise effect in taste would vary.  A recipe therefore is a guide to recreate the taste the author experienced while making a certain food depending on the situation and circumstance surrounding him the day he or she was writing it down.  Cooks always return to the same memory in an effort to recreate the exact masterpiece every time.  This I observed is so very similar to what lovers lost do.

Once upon a time you danced with this man under a silver, Neverland moon with diamond stars that dotted the endless black sky.  And everything was magic.  But. Here you are now, trying to recreate the same enchantment chasing the very same moon and begging the very same stars to lend its light to the very same dark night and...nothing.  Not even a spark.  And you sit there tired and befuddled that after having followed the recipe to the dot, the memory of taste cannot be duplicated.  

Jacques Pepin said too that each recipe is a work in progress and that he knows when a recipe is done, when nothing else can be added to make it even better. And in that sense the recipe is a living document not just a formula made of letters and symbols written in stone.  It may be improved, altered and enriched depending on that which you choose to add.  Kinda like in relationships, huh?  As in relationships, chemistry is needed for it to begin, romance to make it blossom and commitment for it to flourish.  But as time goes by, you'd need a healthy dose of laughter and a constant infusion of trust for the dish to always be as delicious as it was or even better than it had ever been.  Some of us are fortunate enough to get to the point when the recipe is done, as Pepin says, when it is perfect as it is and nothing else should be added.  Of course it is only now that I understand that it takes a long, long time to get there.  That it is imperfect for a long, long time, before it finally is.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the patience to get to that place where nothing more is needed, that sublime place of perfect peace.  Not everyone has the wisdom to understand that the recipe changes with time and with whom we are trying to love. We keep trying to chase the memory or stick to a formula without considering that we are applying these to different people and different times.  Or that it could in fact be the same person who is already different inside.   

I realize that I should love the way I cook, for I always cook in the now.  Depending on what kind of produce I have, the kind of flour I'm working on, the amount of humidity in the air. I always adjust. Loving is pretty much the same.  Memory is good when it is a reminder and a guide of a good thing.  It is bad when we continue living there without realizing we could be achieving the same if we lived and loved in the here and now.  We will never have the exact same tools and ingredients nor will we ever be and be with the exact same people.  But as long as we know this, we will always have a chance to improve, alter and enrich that which we have.  

Here's to more days of cooking, living and loving for all of us.  :-)