Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

It began with dinner…

It usually starts with dinner. The fun. The company. And all that goes with it. The food is never an afterthought – it’s the primary purpose. A single ingredient can inspire an entire evening. The quest for an elusive flavor can blossom into a complete menu. Sometimes the ingredients reflect the mood. At others, the mood is influenced by the ingredient. It can be as simple as a taste of childhood, or a memory from a favorite travel destination. Perhaps it’s the desire to try something new, or to create a dish that has never been attempted before. The driving force is the meal. It’s what brings us all together.

I’m a cook, not a chef. There’s a difference. I have no training from any culinary school, I’ve never worked in restaurant – I am, largely, self taught. For good or bad, that means I do things my way. I come from a line a good country cooks. My maternal grandmother would fry anything that hung around the kitchen long enough to end up in the cast iron skillet. She also could make a pie crust that to this day still frustrates my mother to try and replicate. My fraternal grandmother was not much different. No matter what time of the day or night you dropped by for a visit, you were pretty much assured that a pie or cake would be just coming out of the oven. My mother is a fabulous baker in her own right, and I still ask her to provide desserts for dinners and tailgate parties. That being said, I grew up having no interest in the kitchen, in cooking, or in anything to do with the preparation of my meals. Food appeared at certain times of the day. It was nearly always good, and that was all that mattered.

Anthony Bourdain went in search of the perfect meal, wrote a highly successful book and hosted a popular TV show about his quest. In the end, he discovered that perfection is elusive and fleeting. What works in one place does not necessary bring about the same result or feeling in another. Kind of like my grandmother’s pie crust, which my mother still hasn’t managed to imitate. Even though she has the recipe and follows it religiously, the end result is just not the same as what my grandmother would pull from her old oven in Owingsville, Kentucky. The truth is that kind of feeling and experience can’t be replicated anywhere else. When my grandmother died, for all intents and purposes, her pie crust died with her. It’s a sad fact of life. As emotional human beings we walk a fine line between living for the next great experience and being tied in the inevitably futile quest to relive the last one. Over time I discovered that the kitchen is a metaphor for this seemingly unfair quirk of fate. No matter how hard one tries, the recipes never come out exactly the same way twice. The company is different, the day is different, how each of us feels is different. If you could measure it scientifically you might find that there is in fact no difference in the ingredients, the taste, the proportions or the preparation. Part of the fun in enjoying food and friends, however, is it’s not a scientific process. Emotions – mine, yours and theirs – are omnipresent. That is what, in the end, makes the experience worthwhile and worth remembering.

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One response

  1. doc

    Neil, this is great! I read several and will be back. Keep pluggin’. Maybe one day we will both be famous! SPS

    October 14, 2008 at 10:29 pm

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