I remember sitting in my high-chair, wearing my “Three Bears” bib, watching mom cook dinner. This was before frozen pizzas and hot pockets and pre-packaged meat pies. Back when shit was real. When 6 bags of groceries cost $20 at the Superette. I paid $124 for a single bag at Whole Foods the other day, thought it was a pretty good deal since it was full of meat and booze.
Anyway, I’d sit and watch mom, and if I was a good boy, we’d make cookies and she’d hand me the spoon to lick afterwards. If I was real good, she’d leave a few chips in there, and I’d crunch them up with my baby teeth, knowing my mommy loved me as the warm chocolate coated my throat.
Part 2: Food as friendship
I’d fill my backpack with candy and try to give it away during recess, looking to make friends, but only giving the popular kids one more reason to tease me. He licked it, he rolled it in dirt. But I didn’t, it was good candy, sweet and uncontaminated.
I did once spray an apple with Lysol, and stuck it in Peter Oppenheimer’s desk, hoping it would make him sick and he’d stop coming to school. Stop yelling at me, giving me dirty looks, stop beaning me at war-ball. But he threw the apple out. That fucker grew up to become the CFO of Apple.
Part 3: Food as fuel
Kids burn calories, and when Coach Welch told me to take a lap, you can bet I needed every single one to get around that track. Welch taunted me, made me work extra hard, told me that if I grew up fat I wouldn’t have any friends. My fucking dad said that too, and looking back, I can see they were both just trying to help a brother out.
But when you think of food as fuel, and you’re empty on the inside, you can’t help topping off your tank, and that’s exactly what I did as often as possible, taking seconds and thirds, even volunteering in the Cafeteria so I could snack before lunch.
Part 4: Food as work
The very first job I really cared about was at a restaurant called Macs. Mr. Georgie was a die-hard Niners fan from Hunter’s Point, and he wore a Joe Montana jersey the whole week he trained me how to make soups, salads, and appetizers. There wasn’t much that bothered Georgie, except of course the Raiders, and being late for work.
I took to it quickly, learning the recipes, the names of our regular customers, and which waitresses would let you steal a kiss in the walk-in. Kara was my favorite. Once we were short staffed in the front, and they asked me to be a server for a few hours until they could call Kara in. I think that lasted about a minute. I had somehow offended an entire table of diners with my charms, friends of the owner no less. Back to the back with Georgie, pronto.
Part 5: Food as currency
At 19, I moved out of my parents house and into a pretty girl’s bedroom. I didn’t have to pay much if I mowed the lawn and cooked for her and the room-mates. I’d stand over the stove, talking in a phony Italian accent, wearing an oversize apron, making spaghetti, cheeseburgers, and warming up the canned soup I pinched from the restaurant.
As some point, she because a vegetarian, and things got extremely complicated. Hamburger Helper is bad with beef, but it’s abysmal with Tofu. Once day she asked me to go up to the roof to talk, a six-pack of Heinekens in hand. I thought maybe she was going to say she wanted to get married. But instead she said it was probably time for me to start paying full rent.
Part 6: Food as bait
Girls like food, and as I aged, I realized I could use this to my advantage. Instead of going on “dates,” I’d offer to cook for them. This unknowingly set me up as a provider as opposed to a lover, something I didn’t quite understand. I filled the bellies of more than a few of those women before they went to a “friends” house to frolic in bed, sustained by my meal.
I wondered if it was my cooking. Maybe if I created something scrumptious, something amazing, something beyond belief, they’s stick around a frolic with me. I perfected my stew and griddle skills and bought a new set of cookware that actually matched. Still, the whole lover/provider thing escaped me, and though I was becoming quite adroit in the kitchen, I usually went into the bedroom alone.
Part 7: Food as community
A few years after that, I met an amazing woman who also liked to cook, in fact she possessed my diametric opposite skills. I made stews, she made scones. I grilled steaks, she baked puff pastry. The most incredible thing was that we would work in the kitchen together, drinking wine and smoking pot, and provided we stayed out of each other’s way, we’d end up with a beautiful co-created meal.
Turns out it was just a Holiday romance, one of those November to January deals you get into so you have someone to go to parties with, so you didn’t have to be alone on fucking Christmas. We broke up after that, but by a strange stroke of luck, we cut and pasted the relationship into the following year, eating scones and cookies throughout the holidays, splitting just before Valentines day.
Epilogue: Food as love
And now I’m back to where I started, food as love. The service I provide to those I care about, those who mean something, those I want to delight.
And as I stand in my kitchen, flipping and grilling and roasting and baking, I think about everything that food means to me, and I smile because I’m home.