In honor of Women's History Month in March, we teamed up with acclaimed guest blogger Tara O'Brady from Seven Spoons to reflect upon the culinary inspiration that has shaped her to become who she is today. From her grandmother's kitchen to celebrated New York restaurants, Tara poignantly discusses the female figures who have inspired her as a cook, writer, and photographer.
"The first chef I ever heard of was Auguste Escoffier. I read about him in a cookbook, and I remember sounding out his name. I liked how it sounded important, how it seemed to have extra syllables. It sounded the name of a hero.
But Escoffier, for all my admiration, didn't make me want to become a cook. For that inspiration I didn't have to go so far as France, but instead to the stove in our own kitchen, to stand beside my mother and grandmother, two of the finest cooks I knew.
Mum and grandma didn't hold formal cooking lessons. Most of what I know about making chapatis or cooking rice or scrambling eggs came through observation — by watching the way my mother's hands would move into the dough as she worked it against the counter, by noticing how the smell of cooking rice blooms and fills the kitchen, and in taking note of the pan my grandmother liked for eggs. They showed me all these things, with quiet confidence, and a genuine love of cooking.
What's more, is that they were the cooks that brought our family together for celebrations. In its way, each one of our meals was a gift they gave.
When I was in university, I discovered the works of MFK Fisher and read Nigella Lawson's How to Eat. They were revelations. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and they wrote about food in a way I'd not considered; their writing was intelligent, evocative, literary. There was heart behind their words, a greed for the subject matter — there wasn't a distance or detached technicality when they talked about food and cooking, it was tied to experience and often emotion. They were at the table, digging in.
Today, I admire Rebecca Collerton, Caroline Fidanza and Elizabeth Schula and their food at Saltie in Brooklyn, New York. I like that April Bloomfield talks so specifically about why she likes dishes a certain way, and is unapologetic in the (possibly perceived) overdressing of her Caesar salad. I'm in awe of Vandana Shiva and Bija Vidyapeeth and their seed-saving initiative in India. Linda Crago, an heirloom vegetable farmer in Wellandport, Ontario, champions those same concerns of farming and agriculture, doing her part in bringing together a vibrant community of gardeners and cooks and I am proud to call her a friend. I can't wait for Molly Wizenberg's next book. I want to eavesdrop on a conversation between Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton of The Canal House, preferably one held over cocktails.
These professionals — chefs, cooks, writers, activists, business owners — are opinionated and passionate; they're ambitious, but generous with their talents. They are essential contributors to contemporary food culture, and I am deeply in their debt.
I still cook my mother's recipes, and I've got The Gastronomical Me within arm's reach."
- Tara from Seven Spoons
Photo Credit: Tara O'Brady, Seven Spoons
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