Matters of Taste: Food is More Than Fuel

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

It was Julia Child, who taught me the distinction – and what a teacher she was! 6 feet and 2 inches of culinary inspiration. Blithe, bombastic, haphazard, endearing. “People who love to eat,” she said, “are always the best people”.

I can picture her saying it too – booming with a lilting warble; gesticulating grandly.

In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she brought les plaisirs de la table to the US. As The French Chef, she spilled her joie de vivre all over the small screen.

That series, and her many others, captivated me as a kid.

Julia’s world was a revelation, as enlightening as the sole meunière she’d sampled at Rouen’s La Couronne when finding France in November 1948. An epiphany:

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”

Note her simplest lesson: making an effort in the kitchen. Or in other words, taking pleasure in gastronomy – the art of sourcing, preparing and savouring good food.

Sure, she’d have agreed with Woolf: ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’ And probably, Bernard Shaw, who proclaimed ‘there is no love sincerer than the love of food’.

They differed in that Child celebrated the value of cooking itself – its social significance beyond its practical craft.

Food, in its primordial form, was purely fuel.

Salt, fat, protein, sugar. Mixed with air and water, the basic ingredients of life.

But in the way we evolved our shelters into ‘homes’, so we elevated the experience of eating from one of survival to one of sustenance.

We’re talking nourishment, not just nutrition here.

Italian food hero Marcella Hazan, picks up the theme:

‘What I love is to cook for someone. To put a freshly made meal on the table, even if it is something very plain […], is a sincere expression of affection, […] an act of binding intimacy directed at whoever has a welcome place in your heart.’

Food brings us together. That’s why the process of cooking it is so rewarding – as Michael Pollan writes in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

‘Cooking is all about connection, […] between us and other species, other times, other cultures […], but, most important, other people. Cooking is one of the more beautiful forms that human generosity takes’.

Julia approves in signature style:

“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?”

Mais oui, madame, I most certainly do.

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