What grows together goes together

This weekend in San Francisco, thousands will gather to celebrate the art of food at Slow Food Nation. I was supposed to be there, or at least wanted to be there, but was not able to make it. So, I sit at home and wonder what I am missing. Having lived in San Francisco, Berkeley and Sonoma for over seven years, I have a pretty good idea. Great food, passionate farmers, appreciative eaters and a commitment to live a way of life that has always inspired me. Take a look at the videos and you will see what I mean.

Before I even recognized that I had a passion for food and moved out to California to start my career in cooking, I was inspired by the writing of women who so beautifully articulated what I felt about food and the art of eating and cooking. It was a little known cookbook author, and well known PBS cooking teacher who inspired me to step out of bounds of what I had imagined for myself to attend cooking school. I read Madeleine Kamman's book, The Making of A Cook, one summer before I graduated from college and fell in love with the art of food. I was intrigued and captivated by how she allowed me to imagine the flavors of a dish even before I entered the kitchen. So rich and vibrant were her recipes, embellished with a dash of history and a whole lot of technical know-how. She would, many months later, be one of my teachers and chef de cuisine for the week-long dinners we offered for paying guests at cooking school as part of our final exams.

Her writing led me to my other favorite author, the now very famous and appropriately recognized, MFK Fisher. When I worked for a winery in Sonoma, California, I lived only a few miles a way from MFK.
I would often drive by her small ranch on my way to San Francisco and imagine myself stopping by for an impromtu meal and glass of wine. I made up in my mind a scene of intriguing people and conversation at the table, much like she often describes in her eponynemous catalog of books.
Imagine my delight when I was actually invited to visit MFK. She was nearing the end of her life and she had a local chiropractor make weekly visits to her home to help ease the physical stress, but, I also imagine, the difficult realization that her lovely life was coming to an end. He asked MFK if I could visit and graciously allowed me to tag along. I confessed secretly to him that I had written and "ode to MFK" months back, thanking her on paper for all of the delicious stories she had written for voracious food loving readers like me. For just a moment, I put aside my embarrasment to pay homage to a women who had literally changed the way I ate and inspired the way I wrote. Although I could barely get the words out, they were spoken, and MFK, lying in her hospital bed in the kitchen, hopefully heard how she had made a difference in my life.

I discovered other food writers in the years to come, Elizabeth David, Antonio Pelligrini, Waverly Root, to name a few.

Like MFK, Julia Childs and Elizabeth David, I believe food is more than just what is on your plate. It is a ritual that soothes your soul as much as it satiates your stomach. The experience always starts with good food, but it must be enhanced with good company {even if that is just yourself!}, real conversation and an appreciation for the ceremony of eating and the art of food. It doesn't mean fancy, just simple and good. It is about an authenticity and experience. It is personal and it is unique.

Madeline Kamman often mused to blossoming artists for whom food was going to be a part of their life, "what grows together goes together". Like everything in life, authenticity is tangible, even when we dont recognize the details that make it so. There are some things that are naturally meant to be. Haphazard creations for the sake of creating something new or trendy dont usually last. This is why I love the Italian way of life so much. There is a respect and commitment to centuries of tradition. Even though I like to stretch the boundaries a bit, the tradition is the foundation that allows me to be creative, without being trendy or inventive at the expense of authenticity. I am a fan of, above all, simplicity.

Some days I really don't feel like cooking and leave that to others. I always appreciate the opportunity to sit at the table in someone else's kitchen. Whether you enjoy cooking or simply enjoy eating, I hope you will take time this weekend to enjoy time around the table.

Buon appetito!
copyright 2008 Alisa Barry


pve design said...

Love your bella cucina products - Raised - one of seven, and a father who built a family business - "Paul's Fruit Market" which still exists today - we learned so much about growing and going together.
Appreciate your artful approach to food.

Alisa Barry said...


thanks for writing. It is nice to know someone actually visits the site! I, too, am one of seven children whose father built his own business, so we have something in common. I visited your site and love your drawings.
Stay in touch.....