The Soul of a Recipe

by Sophia Leone

Somewhere in your kitchen, you probably have a beaten down book; filled with dozens of handwritten recipes that, at this point, are barely legible. Whenever you want to recreate something special you have an innate reaction to reach for these recipes. But why are certain recipes so important to us? There are thousands of recipes to find online full of different variations, adding new elements that enhance the original flavor. So, why do we keep going back to these old family recipes? Why are they so meaningful? Well, there’s a clear answer to these questions.

Close your eyes and imagine making your favorite dish from that recipe book. You can probably see yourself, comfortable at home in your kitchen, with a wide variety of ingredients stretched across the table. As you start to incorporate them together an aroma fills the air, making its way around the house and filling it with a distinct yet pleasant smell. As you lean over the stove the steam rises and gently presses against your face. As you taste it, to ensure it’s adequate, it melts into your mouth, and then you remember. The second you take that bite it brings you back to the moment when you first tasted it. 

Certain meals have a special ability: they transport us through time. They can make us remember who we were and who we can still become. With just one bite we are once again surrounded by the people, the laughter, the comfort that the dish provided. It allows us to reminisce about these moments, the moments we wish we could still be in. The emotions that arise from the dish may bring a saudade feeling – the memories that bring us joy but may never be had again – making it bittersweet. However, that’s what makes these recipes so valuable. They can create a meal that helps you remember the good,  negating any feelings of longing.

A great representation of this comes from the Pixar film Ratatouille. When the cold-hearted food critic Anton Ego came to review Gusteau’s restaurant, he came in with the expectation of shutting it down. However, once a plate of ratatouille is presented in front of him his eyes widen. As he takes the first bite we see an explosion of colors transporting us somewhere else in time: a time when Ego was a young boy. We see his mother approach him with that same dish and as he takes that first bite the boy smiles as his mother pats him on the head. Quickly we flash back to the current Ego in shock. The boy full of hope and love, that was once long gone, comes alive in him again. He then devours the dish in a new light, with the love he had residing in him again. 

It is not just the magic of Disney that understands the connection food has with our memories and emotions. José Ramón Andrés Puertra is a world renowned chef, noted for translating the “small plate” dining ideology into American cuisine. His years of experience in owning restaurants, traveling the world, and receiving many awards gave him a true sense of wisdom when it comes to the value of a bite. He states, “I realized the power of food to evoke memories, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.” This quote sums up the quintessential essence of what food and our recipes can do for us. 

Even though the people we love and the memories we once had may be gone, the powers of a recipe book can resurrect them. Whenever you’re reminiscing about the past, wishing you were still there, go to your cupboard and pull out the old recipe book from the dusty shelf. It may be a little beaten up, from the years of use, but it will provide you with the memories that will last a lifetime. 

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