Opinions, Column

Food for Thought

Whether I am critiquing, discussing, photographing, preparing, or passionately consuming it, I am unapologetically obsessed with food. 

As a kid, I preferred the Food Network over Disney Channel, with Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals and Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian captivating my attention every Sunday morning. The Food Network was channel number 66 on my childhood television provider, a number forever etched into my memory. I somehow knew how to tune in—long before I knew what a TV channel even was. 

The role of cooking and food in my life evolved over time. In my earliest memories, food was synonymous with family time, acting as the common thread in all gatherings. My grandma’s fudge brownies are a quintessential treat and one of the first recipes I learned how to make. No matter the occasion, or even just on an ordinary day, I can always rely on “Grandma’s Brownies” sitting in a rectangular Tupperware container to the left of the stove. 

As a young child, I maintained an impressive repertoire of “kid-friendly” cookbooks. My favorite, the Strawberry Shortcake Berry Yummy Cookbook, had a recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, which became a staple in my routine. The recipe, however, became far too simplistic for my taste. Guided by surprisingly good instincts, my five-year-old self decided to augment the mac and cheese with a layer of crushed Ritz Crackers crumbs. Oddly enough, it was delicious! The Strawberry Shortcake Berry Yummy Cookbook still sits on my bookshelf, annotated with my illegible recipe alterations on each and every page. 

Despite being a picky eater throughout my early childhood, cooking brought me the courage and determination to expand my palate. My “picky eater” status was not traditional—while most kids’ limited diets consisted of pizza and chocolate milk, I preferred grilled chicken with herbs de provence or filet mignon. Not exactly a cheap habit. Still, I was terrified of anything green and stayed away from intense flavors. 

My pickiness limited my cooking endeavors, as many of the advanced recipes I wanted to try were far out of my dietary comfort zone. After years of my parents’ painstakingly trying to introduce me to new foods, it was only when I started cooking myself that I had the courage to try new things. 

During the pandemic, going grocery shopping for my family became the highlight of my week. I finally had the free time to experiment with complex recipes and prepare elaborate meals for my family every night. I even began developing my own recipes and started an Instagram food blog to share my culinary adventures publicly. It became the highlight of my day to post my meals and have strangers from across the world, most of whom had similar accounts, compliment and critique my recipes. I began writing a cookbook with all of my recipes, hoping to help other former picky eaters use independent culinary exploration to expand their horizons with food. Though my cookbook project has been put on hold since I went to college, I hope to one day finish the book and have it published. There is so much value in self-driven motivation, and I found that to be the single most important factor in maturing my palate. 

My cooking journey halted during my first two years of college, as I did not have access to a kitchen during the school year. Each time I returned home, though, I graced my family with the most elaborate cuisine at every meal. Now, as a junior living in an apartment with a full kitchen, I have finally been able to resume my culinary explorations again. 

There is nothing I look forward to more after a long day than coming home and preparing dinner. I maintain an extensive list with my meal inspiration and plan all day which one I’m going to make. Whether I’m cooking for myself or for my roommates, I feel reinvigorated and rewarded after making a great meal. 

Cooking has become a creative outlet and stress-reliever for me, leading me to explore new flavor combinations and branch out into new cuisines. My culinary journey has shaped and evolved, but my passion for food has remained consistent. Sitting down with friends and family over a great meal creates a connection unmatched by anything else, highlighting the enduring role of food in all aspects of my life. I encourage you all to cultivate a passion in activities you enjoy doing—cooking or otherwise.

November 19, 2023