The best thing I ever "ate"!

Yes, I know that is the name of a food network show, however, it is also a spiritual lesson I learned from some of the restaurants I have eaten at in my life. Things I have eaten at restaurants inspired some of the things I have made for my friends and family. For me, when I eat something amazing, you know one of those dishes that would be on your “the best thing I ever ate” list, I begin trying to unpack the process behind it and the ingredients within it. The process is similar to what Bobbi Flay and Anne Burrell had their contestants do on one episode of Worst Cooks in America. Here is a dish, figure out what is in it and how we made it.

One of the dishes on my best things I ever ate dish was this sautéed corn at the Strathallen Hotel in Rochester, NY. To be honest, I do not remember what else I ate there that night. However, the corn was one of those dishes of which I could not get enough. It was somewhat addictive and I kept going back for more. In my process of trying to figure it out, I had to order an extra bowl of this amazing corn so I could focus on how the chef had made it. What I tasted was four things: corn (obviously), butter, saffron, and mascarpone cheese. I spent so much time raving about this dish to my server; she had the chef come out so I could tell him about it. Being a novice detective, I asked him how he made it and he gave me some general instructions. I was pleased I got at least the ingredients and techniques right.

Periodically, over the last two years, I have been working at perfecting this dish. I am still not quite there. However, what I have mastered is removing the corn and its milk from the cob. I sauté it in about some butter (the amount is still being worked out, a few strands of saffron (not too much as I want to preserve the yellowy color) and then some mascarpone cheese to give it that creamy base. Of course, a little salt and pepper to enhance the flavors

One of the other dishes that has made it to my list is the chicken potpie soup, which is occasionally at the menu at Rohrbach’s on Buffalo Road in Rochester, NY. I have to be honest, it is only on my best thing I ever ate list when Cherry, one of the chefs, cooks it. She has a way with soups that make them sing when you are eating them. My wife, who is not a soup eater, took one spoon of my soup and then wound up ordering a bowl for herself and we got a container to bring home. What I love about this soup is that it tastes just like you are eating this amazingly rich and creamy chicken potpie. The pieces of crust are always flaky, never soggy. While I have been able to master a good part of this soup recipe, the crust part, as they do, I have not yet managed to master. I did have an idea that I could make the soup part and then cover the individual bowls with crust and then it would still stay flaky as I ate it.

This detective approach comes in handy when I am eating foods from another cuisine. There are times I can figure out some of the ingredients. However, at times, there are ingredients in a dish I have never even heard of. As I ask questions, read menus, and talk to the servers, I learn so much about ingredients, spices, flavor profiles, and combinations.

Not only has this detective approach benefitted me when I am eating or trying to replicate a dish. However, it has helped me to evolve spiritually. It has enabled me to master the same process with spiritual foods. For example, years ago, I received a piece of spiritual nourishment from Father Jim Callan of Spiritus Christi Church, Rochester NY. The one line from his sermon that has stuck with me for almost a decade now is “nothing an hold back the spring.” Like my creamy corn, this is one of those simplistic phrases. However, there is a depth of wisdom behind this and it one of those spiritual dishes I have returned to since hearing it.

With spiritual food, unlike physical food, one cannot always talk with the “chef” to learn what led to this offering of spiritual food. However, one can take that food, play detective with it as it pertains to one’s own life and how it will be spiritually nourishing. Other times, however, you are able to dialogue with a spiritual teacher and gain additional insight. For example, at the end of May 2012, our spirituality book club will have an opportunity to Skype with Shaeri Richards, the author of the book we are reading this month – Dancing with your dragon.

Sometimes it is the most simplistic of offerings, which provide this spiritual nourishment, which one returns to on a daily basis. For me, one of my daily mantras is “empty empty happy happy,” a mantra used by a Noetic monk. I say these words to myself repeatedly as I fall asleep and as I wake up. It is what I come back to throughout the day if I feel as if I am filling up with something.

These are just a few of the best things I have eaten. What is one of yours?