I read somewhere recently that you remember things with your brain, your heart or your stomach. It didn’t take much deliberation to realise I’m very clearly a stomach person. My dad was, although I’m relatively sure his impecabble memory was a super power regardless of what he ate, he just really liked food (despite his kitchen skills being limited to being beans on toast). My mum on the other hand, enjoys the cooking just as much as the eating and I like to think that I’m the same.
Being part of a family who put so much emphasis on food and drink, on the way it brings people together and the comfort it provides, is something I have never really thought much about. It’s second nature to me, a part of life that has always been there and something I have carried through to my independence and adulthood. I suppose it has shaped me more than I realised. I wouldn’t have such a desire to bring my friends together around the dinner table if I hadn’t had countless nights lying awake in bed listening to the clink of glasses and my dad’s unexpected laughter drifting up the stairs, if I hadn’t come home from babysitting to the tail-ends of dinner parties with tipsy adults demanding I join them and my mum cutting me a slice of her pavlova as I tentatively sat at the end of the table. I probably wouldn’t put much effort into discovering new restaurants if I didn’t have memories of driving for hours down sandy lanes in rural Italy to enjoy perfectly fried courgette flowers and incredible pasta pomodoro. I wouldn’t associate golden hour with a disposable barbecue and a beer on the beach and I wouldn’t know that one of the best ways to save money on holiday is to make a picnic lunch with whatever you can nab at the hotel breakfast.
I know that ultimately, food is just something we need to survive but to me, there is so much more to it. My granny’s carrot cake is the reason for countless tea-time conversations, my mum’s crumble helped give me the strength to return to uni after dad died and I feel a little bit inspired everytime I see my grandad’s cheese soufflé rise in the oven. It bonds us and gives us an opportunity to celebrate in a way that is perhaps more reflective and perceptive than a standard party (although that does depend on how much wine is on offer). I value the morning after debrief brunches just as much as the night before and the pleasure of being cooked for or cooking for others is one I don’t think I’ll ever tire of.
I will always remember meals, from the graduation lunch at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, annual fish and chips at Eastbourne beach, a terrible pizza at a motorway hotel in France, the world’s best pancakes at bottomless brunch in Fulham, boozy meals with family that always end around a piano, Christmas roasts, picnics, birthday cakes and takeaways, the list goes on. It isn’t just the food though, it’s the people and the place and the moment in time. It’s the conversations and laughter that float around the table, where and why you gathered together, what you did next, the greetings and the goodbyes that happen either side.
I suppose that in it’s simplicity, it may be a love of food, but it satisfies so much more than just my stomach.
If you fancy a bit more food related content (from people far more interesting than myself) then give Out To Lunch with Jay Raynor a listen. The food critic takes big names out for lunch, conversation flows accompanied by the atmospheric sounds of some brilliant restaurants. Stanley Tucci wrote beautifully for The Atlantic about how food punctuates his family’s days in lockdown and revealed a few of his favourite recipes. If you don’t listen already, there is a huge backlog of Table Manners episodes where Jessie Ware and her mum invite people over a meal and find out about the role food has played in their life.