What is it exactly about the preparation of food that transcends the process itself? We go through repetitive motions every day that do not leave great imprints on our memory. Notably driving to and from school or work, putting on our clothes, and folding the laundry - these are things we do frequently but do not remember. However, when it comes to cooking - I can rattle off memories without end. There was the four hour disaster when Josh tried to make homemade tortillas. I remember another time, in the same place, when he attempted to grill chicken indoors and set off all the fire alarms in our building, which brought firemen to our door. And of course there are a thousand memories with my Mother, Mema, Grandmother, and Grandfather. With the right cues, I could probably recall memories around many meals I’ve made.
Perhaps that’s why - when we make something, it’s important. For a meal, we’re not just building something small for ourselves, typically we’re sustaining the health, vitality, and livelihood of ourselves and others.
One of the most vivacious characters in cooking is Virginia Willis. I had the great honor and opportunity to take a cooking class she led at the new Whole Foods store near my home here in Charlotte. What a great opportunity this was for me- she’s worked a brilliant culinary career that has graced the likes of Nathalie Dupree, the kitchens of Burgundy, Bobby Flay, and Martha Stewart.
I knew the recipes, cooking, and and experience would be out of this world, but I guess I didn’t expect this experience to be so soulful. I should have though. If you read the introduction to her latest book, Basic to Brilliant Y’all, you see quickly that cooking is the central, binding element that ties together the most important people, experiences, and memories of her life.
As Van Gogh himself brilliantly arranged large dollops of richly colored oil on a canvas, and as Virginia Willis herself creates brilliantly thick, decadent bittersweet chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce, her presence filled the room with warmth, love, and care to her craft. Cooking, to her, is the living practice of recreating the memories and love she felt with her grandmother growing up. It’s the euphoria flowing through her veins as she does what she has been called and was built to do. From the inside out, we all bathed in this spirit of her presence.
The experience of cooking with and learning from Virginia Willis called attention to what I love about cooking the most - the love that goes into it. Time slows for you to examine the right ingredients. Time is measured in minutes and seconds. It is time to live in the present, construct the masterpiece, and see it through minute by minute. Love lives in the inputs, process, and outputs. Every second counts.
It is also the shared love, contributions, and wine everyone in the kitchen puts into it. Cooking is the time where you put the rest of the day’s concerns aside to perfect your craft, to build your masterpieces. It is time to share the load, to pick up the pieces and put them together, all as one.
I’ll never forget this rich memory hearing Virginia’s stories, learning her craft, and enjoying a glass of wine with my mother-in-law. Opportunities arise to us all the time where we get to capture and enjoy time with a master, whether it’s your grandmother, mother, or someone fascinating like Virginia Willis. Seize yours. The memories never die.
You can find Basic to Brilliant Y'all here.