A Personal Essay by Reece Nelson
Growing up, dinner time at my house was always filled with the sound of pots clanging together and the thud of a knife against a chopping board. Rich smells wafted throughout the house while my brother and I began to migrate to the kitchen to watch my dad cook dinner. This was a nightly ritual in my family. We sat around the dinner table every night to eat a meal together. It was only until I got to college when I realized that this wasn’t the case for everybody. Food has had a massive influence on me and that is largely due to my dad.
After graduating college my dad didn’t know what to do with his life, but he did have a passion for the culinary arts. So he decided to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. Afterwards he went to work in kitchens across the country until he and my mom opened two of their own restaurants.
As a kid, I never really understood the significance of having a dad who was a chef. Every night he would make a fabulous meal from scratch and I remember my brother one night saying, “Dad, can we just have a normal meal for once?” Being little kids, all we really cared about were dinosaur nuggets, but looking back on it, those meals have shaped the person I am today. Being able to experience such complex flavors has really developed my palate. And regardless of the actual food, seeing my parents use the dining experience to create a sense of community, whether that be at home or at their restaurants, showed me the power of culinary arts. Food is an essential part of everyone’s lives — whether they know it or not. It has the ability to bring people together. When you sit around a dinner table, it becomes a place where everything else is forgotten and you’re present in the moment. The reason why you sit around that table is because of the food, but what I find to be the best part of the meal are the conversations after.
Having grown up with that experience, I see its impacts on my life. When I was younger I remember my dad teaching my brother and I how to properly use a knife and other basics, like how to make pasta. Constantly being around my dad, who is always helping me learn more about cooking, has really shown to develop my own fascination with the culinary arts. This really proved to be true during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, cooking was always a part of my life, but I never really took it seriously. Having so much free time being stuck at home, I, like a lot of people, started to take up cooking. Having my dad there to guide me step by step really helped me to look past what’s on the plate and think about the different flavors on your palate. Over the next year and a half I continued to use the kitchen as a creative outlet, constantly calling my dad whenever I had a question.
My dad has definitely inspired me in the kitchen and has shown me the importance cooking has in our lives. It not only acts as a way to feed yourself, but also as a way to connect with others. It is only recently that I realized the impact that growing up in a household that revolves around food has had on me.