Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More About Julia Child

I never, ever thought I would be writing about Julia Child, and certainly not twice in one week!

However, so many of you wrote me about my last blog, I knew that I should to do a follow up.
So I began thinking last night about all the chefs and cooks I have known. In fact, I called a couple of them yesterday. I wanted to thank them for the attention they have shown to food preparation and what that has meant to my life.

Food must be important; the Bible certainly talks a lot about it.

Just think: the first thing that goes wrong in the Bible is when someone eats the wrong food. Adam and Eve caught cosmic food poisoning and passed it on to all of us.

Then, the last thing that goes right in the universe (according to the Revelation of St. John) is a great meal with all the saints of all time.

Now, in between those two events the Bible talks about hundreds of generations divided into two great spiritual eras – the Old and the New Covenants. The most intimate and holy ceremony in both of those covenants is a sacramental meal. Passover and Holy Communion are invitations to human beings to eat a meal with God!

All this has made me think about how a fine meal relates to our awareness of ourselves as creatures made in God’s image and likeness.

We can, after all, survive as animals, just eating crap out of cans. We may not stay very healthy doing it, but we could actually survive on dog food. Then we wouldn’t need forks, spoons, napkins or butter dishes. We certainly wouldn’t need candles and crystal.

The fact is, we don’t carefully prepare our food or worry about its presentation because of our physical needs. We fuss about food because we are spiritual beings.

When we rush about stuffing junk in our faces as we run out the door, we are forgetting that life is about much more than surviving. We forget that we are creatures of dignity. When we forget that, we get into all sorts of dysfunction and grief.

(This is not the time or place to talk about spiritual fast food – about worship reduced to on-the-run funny stories by clever preachers and fuzzy worship songs. I won’t even try to address the unbearable flip top communion cups with their attached wafer thingamabob, from which one guzzles reconstituted grape water and devours pressed hydroflorinated reprocessed monosodiumcrapanate mash into one’s mouth while the preacher mumbles something sweet and we all rush to the parking lot. One day, if you will actually read it, I will write about all of that “worship” foolishness…but not today.)

This issue for today is that quality, reflection, attention, and respect for one’s self and one’s colleagues does not naturally occur. Please read this again: these attributes do not naturally attach themselves to anything or to anybody; they are deliberately (and usually incrementally) developed by some person who cares.

Someone like Julia Child. Seriously!

Moses and Christ both wanted worship to require our time, evoke our attention and provoke our transformation. Both of them would have been aghast by our “fly-by” worship. We know this because of the two sacramental actions they instituted. Neither Passover nor Eucharist can occur quickly or haphazardly. Likewise, the things Moses and Jesus wanted to occur in our lives can’t actually happen unless we do the spiritual services they both asked us to do. Modern substitutes just don’t deliver the same spiritual life.

Julia Child longed for Middle America – or “servantless Americans,” as she put it – to have the same opportunity as Parisians to enjoy quality cuisine. She wasn’t against our hamburgers or hot dogs; she just wanted us to experience something that took more time, more attention, quality ingredients and so forth. She knew that experiencing fine cuisine would enrich our lives.
People like Julia Child, who champion quality -- particularly aesthetic quality –, have an uphill climb. Many people will even ridicule the quest for the aesthetic qualities of music, food, clothing and so forth. They think aesthetic quality is frivolous and vain. Indeed, the pursuit of aesthetic quality can become idolatrous, as can all human endeavors, including religion. However, aesthetic quality is one of the ways that human beings separate themselves from animals.
Without aesthetic life, we sink into barbarism and social chaos. So it is important – vitally so – to our emotional and spiritual health to recognize and celebrate quality.

There are some ‘Julia Childs’ in my own life, people who have tried to show me respect through the way they prepare food. Will you take a moment and read a sentence or two about each of them?

Denise Palma cooks Italian food; great Italian food. She should open up a restaurant. Someone should invest some money so she can do just that! She unites people with her food. She invests time and talent into a meal, just like Jesus and Moses asked us to do. Her house is like the house of God (because we know that God probably lives in Italy). Go eat there sometime – if she invites you!

Robert Hill did some research about my life. That’s why he decided to make Ecuadorian cerviche when Trish and I went to visit him and his wife Maren. I appreciated his efforts. However, I figured it wouldn’t be authentic. Americans just can’t make Ecuadorian cerviche. I was wrong! He prepared cerviche just like it would have tasted in a good restaurant in Quito. Then we ate fennel. Fennel! What the heck! Not fennel seed, some exotic garnish. Full blown fennel! And then… trout. Not just regular old trout. Oh, Lord have mercy. Trout that he had caught and prepared himself! Finally, he served grilled pineapple and covered it with some sauce that is evidently a secret recipe from some distant ancestor. (I made that part up, but I want to keep you reading my stuff.) All of this effort and care produced a magic meal. And to think, the man who did all of this serves the immigrants of our church with his time, love and prayer for untold hours every single week.

Barbara Dyson, the high priestess of Martha Stewartism, is a force of nature. She is the queen of the kitchen. If she ever invites you to her house for dinner, go. Yea, I say unto thee again, go thou with haste! She prepares her home, her food and herself to make wonderful evenings for all her special guests. There will be great conversation, well-seasoned and interesting foods, and regionally appropriate beverages. (Also, her husband John will catechize you as you eat, unless she makes him stop.)

Maria Maciuk has an Argentine/ Ukrainian heritage. Her unique background deeply affects her mouthwatering cuisine. Her presentation leaves you wondering whether it would be a sacrilege to actually eat her food. Then you do and burst forth into tongues of men and of angels. Her pastries have made grown people just break down and weep. Her food is an altogether spiritual experience, may her tribe increase.

Finally, my sister-in-law, Lisa. She can cook from Julia Child if she likes, and she does sometimes. However, in the last few years, she has poured her talents into preparing the traditional foods of the American Southeast and making them available (and affordable) to the people who keep our city alive. She and Marty run a restaurant called The Sweet Tea Dinner. They serve catfish and fried chicken there that will ruin your diet but bless your soul. They learned to cook by preparing midweek dinners for poor people in their church. When the season of working on a church staff came to an end and God delivered them, they opened their diner. But the lessons they learned in the church about community and relationships flowed into their business. They serve home cooking with a heart – and a soul.

Julia Child wanted to teach – and Julie wanted to learn – what constitutes the soul of cooking. All the people I have mentioned in this blog have been life-long students of that certain something.
What does one do to nourish the souls of those who eat the food one prepares?

Indeed, how does any work touch a soul? Can sheer business structure and bottom-line thinking do that?

It’s a great question.

I wish more pastors would ask it.

1 comment:

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...
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