I, too, have a food story, America…
I have begun to evaluate my food work through the eyes of a culinary storyteller, which I feel is my responsibility as a chef, so I found myself in a swirling world of memories, some good and some bad. I want to tell my story – why my food is what it is.
I finally remembered the day I became a chef, or let’s just call me a “chef seedling.” I say that because I am hesitant to use the term loosely. Actually, I am resistant to use it, at all, because it’s something earned. I didn’t use the term for myself until I had actually held the position for some time.
But, there had to be that precise minute that Chef Phil was conceived and became a future thing.
I found that moment I became, well, a foodie, and I was confronted with thoughts of culinary exploration and privilege. They go together, but are criminally unobtainable when people who need are involved. My personal history has included periods of poverty seasoned with periods of privilege, which gives me a unique, but not necessarily singular point of view.
As a child in St. Croix, I came across an array of spectacular tastes ranging from sugar cane harvested off the side of the road to fresh seafood from the boats of family friends to my field of pigeon peas in our backyard, but there’s that one special moment that I realized that food could be more than I had ever known it could be.
It would be emotional to the point of distraction when a trip to St. Thomas would hit the family calendar. I would be absolutely giddy to know that one short trip on the Mongoose would bring me close to the wizardry that could only be found at the Hilton!
Yes, their smoked trout appetizer was my childhood kryptonite, and I still remember it over four (4) decades later, my first time. The first tentative squeeze of lemon. That first waft of smoke rising to my nostrils as I lift fork to face. That first little nibble.
The first bit of confusion that followed.
What’s going on? I am eating this thing, but it’s making me feel different somehow. This is something more than just filling my belly, and I think I like it! Of course I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Damn, that was good! I didn’t think “damn” either, I was a kid! The foul mouth came later. Only a couple years later, but later nonetheless.
Should have added a tug at my belt and a satisfied and significant grunt, as an exclamation point, though. That would have been an exceedingly appropriate reaction.
Little Phillip was growing up. I had just moved from consumer to connoisseur in one fell swoop. This was my moment. It was the day that I didn’t just need food. I loved it, too!
It’s that moment that I seek to share with people in every plate I produce, because it’s like crack for a chef. You always try to recreate that first high, but it never gets better than that. You always want that next bite to be better than the last. You seek. You strive. You suffer.
You are addicted to food and you share that addiction with the world. You share that zany obsession with people who are sometimes hard to identify whether they are your audience, captives or counselors.
However, there is no more precious event in a chef’s life than when they really get food for the first time.
This is something that more people need to experience. In our search for food answers, we create food issues. Inside our desires to feed there needs to be an intentional move to include the pleasure when putting forth what we are sold as good food. We need to take food beyond survival for those who are in need. Good food can be inspiring, too.
That whole Slow Food, joy and justice thing needs to be a reality for more people. The ability to enjoy good food is a right.
Some of the answers to food system issues lie in diversity. Diversity in our food stories needs to inform some of our food interventions, which leads to empowered and sustainable food systems. We need to move the food conversation to include all where issues of pleasure are involved.
I recognize that privilege allowed for me to have this memory, and it is why I am hell-bent on helping to provide others with those incredible food memories of their own. We need for others to have these experiences, if we are to support creativity and expose others to the opportunity to create new food stories.
The good food movement needs to embrace others to sustain itself.
I, too, have a good food story, America…