Lessons from the non-existent cookbook

I have this fascination with cookbooks, not so much for the recipes, but for the information and wisdom in the explanations and the stories. Sometimes what makes me want to read a cookbook is listening to how a chef speaks about their food. Ever since I began watching the food network, one chef who has fascinated me is Alex Guarnaschelli. While I have never tasted her cooking, there has always been something mystical and spiritual for me about the way she talks about food. Then there is the look on her face and the way her whole body seems to be experiencing what the offering she is experiencing. I have long felt as if her cookbook would be one I could curl up in bed with and read and savor for the wisdom poured into the pages.

So last night, I began on the quest for something that does not exist – her cookbook. I was able to find a list of her five favorite cookbooks (and yes, I have them on my wish list and will order them one at a time). However, she has yet to publish her own cookbook and so I found myself reflecting on the possibilities of why. The reality is that unless I ever have the opportunity to ask her, I may never know. However, its non-existence has enhanced desire to seek understanding of her wisdom and her understandings. It was in the midst of this reflection, I remembered a Hebrew scripture, which reminded the Jews that God’s ways are not human ways. Even if Alex were to write her quintessential cookbook, I would never fully understand or appreciate the way Spirit works in and through her in her relationship with food.

The other thing, which dawned on me, is that her recipes are there for public consumption, they are just not for sale in a cookbook. On the food network website, they have a list of Alex’s top 100 recipes; while those are wonderful, they are just the recipes. What is missing from something like this are the stories and the wisdom. If I were to print them out and study them, as I learned to study scriptures in seminary, I would mine some of her wisdom. I would begin to find the basic black dress, which is present in her drinks, appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. Perhaps one of these days I may do that.

In reflecting on her favorite cookbooks, I realized each one was an important part of her development as a chef. For example, both The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook by Dione Lucas and Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni both evoke childhood memories. Larry Forgione’s book, An American Place – Celebrating the Flavors of America evoked memories of the beginning of her career and Bobby Flay’s book Bold American Food and Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Simple Cuisine: The Easy, New Approach to Four Star Cooking were about pushing her to new understandings of flavor and technique. They tell the story of her journey to the point she had compiled that list.

It reminded me that in my spiritual journey, there have been books, which ground me in similar ways. They tell the story of where I was and how I got there. If I had to pick five books on my spiritual journey, they would be the Hebrew Bible, The New Testament, Jorge Rieger’s God and the Excluded, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, and Luisah Teish’s Jambalaya. While they do not define my journey, they are each in their own way an integral part of my journey.

As Alex reflected on her five books, there were qualities, which shine through: timelessness, senses, simplicity, integrity, adventure, and technique. It seems to me that these same qualities have been important to me in my spiritual journey as well. There is some core knowledge, which has transcended belief, and is timeless in my life. These same values are what ground me in maintaining my integrity and respecting the integrity of all life (animal, human, vegetable, and mineral). I have learned to trust my senses and my intuition, paying attention to what is being evoked in me and why. While I have a respect for timeless teachings, I also have openness to the wisdom and teachings, which push me outside my comfort zones and expand my spiritual palette, so to speak. I have come to realize that spiritual disciplines do not have to be complex. The simplest of disciplines, like techniques, can create four-star spiritual experiences in your life.