Nuffnang Ads

08 January 2012

Herschel: Freedom with food

By Herschel A. Tan

(Note to the Reader: This is to commemorate Hersch’s first-ever post as contributor of ManilaFoodistas. Show of hands for a welcome party, please – and cheers!)
The omelette scene from “Ratatouille” (2007). Image copyright of Disney/Pixar.

How I came to love food, again: A personal heart-warming scene from my favorite foodie movie ever, “Ratatouille”.

No one was born a gourmet, not unless you grew up in some Napa Valley vineyard, had grass-fed cows grazing in your backyard and had restaurant critics as parents. All of us must’ve tumbled about this world armed with wobbly limbs, flailing arms and an uninitiated palate. Out of our five basic senses, the most promising one had to dwell behind our feeble mouths, like canvasses anticipating specks of a million colors.

My earliest memories of eating were bottles of milk guzzled up, Gerber and Cerelac squandered, and general squeamishness for vegetables (read: leafy greens, eggplant and the abominable okra), save for mashed squash, carrots and potatoes. It was a typical childhood of pranks and pickiness. Snacks were the only food I looked forward to in my lunch bag. I was a bad eater too. Until about the age of four I was still being unabashedly fed to, and with the television as babysitter it probably took twice the time for me to finish a moderate serving, so rice meals were often dunked in a bowl of soup (or even juice!) just so I can practically glob them down.

It’s not to say that I “hated” food. I was the proverbial fast food deferential, junk food-nibbling brat. I was content with good ol’ Chinese when we ate out, preferred fried to stewed, hastily settled for breads with cheese or egg over oatmeal or plain congee, and didn’t bother with anything that involved digesting it raw. Mom had to force it upon me to eat healthily at home – well, I took samples, and that was all. Elsewhere, especially without supervision and hesitation, it was my smorgasbord of choice (*insert evil laugh*)!

This went on for the rest of adolescence, albeit with a bit of reservation towards “the quick and the junk” because along with a propensity towards chomping plates of rice, I noticed that I was overweight already (add to that a billion teenage insecurities!) Because of my own drastic response to a very alarming appearance, I devised my first-ever weight-loss scheme. With the help of Dad as fitness coach, I had a lot less rice for the day, usually soup and bread for dinner, and attempted (the operative word) to exercise in the morning and have more “active” activities. It worked all right, as I desired to look at least passably memorable for the rest of high school (Proms and Graduation, among other trigger-happy photo opportunities). Slowly I realized the benefits of eating better.

Then this entire culinary blitz of the mid-decade came, and I was swept with the revolution. My weekly TV habit consisted of cooking shows (to a certain extent the hot chefs made them even more watchable), and my blogosphere was crammed with food journals. I began to enjoy food not just as a precursor to living, but in itself a pleasurable exercise. I was more conscious of my intake, and thought there were so much food wonders to be explored if I’d glance from above my ‘comfort food style’ of eating. And well, I gravitated toward the hobby of cooking!

Two milestones in my ‘foodie’ epiphany

It took a little movie involving a smart rat who loved good food to get me all worked up on my culinary interest. Ratatouille (2007), despite it being marketed for children, simultaneously spoke to people of all ages and walks of life – that passion, determination and a good dose of self-esteem can do you best – and yes, anyone can cook. The film was where I actually learned of kitchen etiquette and the hierarchy of chef-dom; and the protagonist Remy’s obsessive gourmand exhortations (figured largely in a scene where he demonstrates to his brother Emile the pleasures of good food) caught up with me and manifests (in my mind) whenever I do come across something unexpectedly delicious. And being an avowed Francophile, it wasn’t hard to love a film insisting on la vie Parisienne!

Another one was the fortuitous discovery of food literature. There was more to cookbooks and food
blogs and highbrow restaurant reviews! One lacklustre afternoon at the university library, I chanced upon two slim volumes, Sarap and Tikim, by the country’s finest food writer, Doreen G. Fernandez, and through her wonderful essays on the synergy of food, culture and society (among other interesting discourses) I immersed into a world where food is stripped to its barest – tracing its origins, how territory and acclimatization dictates its preparation, and to paraphrase Ms Fernandez, how a panoply of the simplest ingredients can conjure a meal so exciting to one’s taste buds.

Perhaps the person who catapulted me to appreciate food on a most extraordinary level was the 20th century American writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher – she breathed new meaning to the maxim “To live is to eat.” M.F.K. Fisher lived large with her family and loved ones, and especially when it came to food – on her landmark tome The Art of Eating (a collection of five published books), she imparted her cherished memories in exquisite, evocative phrases, such as the entry “Define This Word”, when she dined alone at a lonely restaurant in France, and found herself the willing victim of a waitress’s affections and the chef’s recommendations. And a personal favorite, “A Thing Shared”, where Mary Frances, her sister and her father spent a blissful dinner by the roadside after a long trip to her great-aunt’s peach & pear ranch. Even with only a humble peach pie and a jar of cream, it seemed to to be a pivotal awakening to Ms Fisher on how she “saw food as something beautiful to be shared with people instead of as a thrice-daily necessity.”

I do wish that with my first serious foray into the food blogging universe, I may be able to evoke some wisdom gleaned from Fernandez, Fisher and their contemporaries (I’m raring to delve into food lit reviews!), as well as help dish out (pun intended) the best undiscovered eats in the metro with the rest of the ManilaFoodistas team! See y’all around!

(Postscript: I think I sounded like a food nerd on this post. While I may be obsessive when it comes to proper table manners, I am very partial to chocolates, half the pizza box, and a big bowl of fried rice. So relax, I don’t bite!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...