I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to find happiness, and if I were to tell the truth I would have to admit that the harder I searched, the more illusive the idea of total fulfillment had become. This notion became so apparent to me a few years ago, that I simply gave up looking for the burning bush and began to concentrate instead on the more mundane tasks that serve to get me and my family through each day. Before long, little bits of joy and contentment began to infiltrate my world in a million different ways, until one day I realized that I had actually become a fairly happy guy, if for no other reason than I was showing up for my life one hundred percent, without fear. It’s been the same for my career as a chef, when I stopped trying to impress everyone by flexing my culinary muscles, and began to focus solely on highlighting the inherent energy of local foods in their natural state of purity; people began to respond to my cooking with real enthusiasm.
To this day one of the best pieces of fish I have ever enjoyed was at a little restaurant attached to a small supermarket on the main road about ten miles south of Kona, on the big island of Hawaii. It was a thick slab of pristine Ahi tuna grilled to absolute perfection, slightly charred and salty on the outside and just warmed but still very rare on the inside. It was served with the simplest of salsas made from ripe tropical fruit, fresh lime juice and a little extra virgin olive oil. It is the only meal I can truly remember with any clarity from that trip, and it was by far the simplest and least expensive. I now believe that when it comes to feeding our bodies, minds and spirits, it’s best to keep the process pure, by focusing on the foods that have the most inherent energy and flavor, both by virtue of how they are produced as well as their seasonality.
Its true organic foods (especially at many local farmers markets) can be more expensive than what you might purchase at a local supermarket. The value lies not so much in the price, but in the general health and nutrition benefits to be enjoyed by purchasing food that hasn’t been tampered with, and then as the demand for this kind of food rises it will become much more affordable.
I have come to the point in my life where I do not eat tomatoes, corn, strawberries, apples etc; unless they are in season and I make sure to purchase these products locally when they are. When strawberries begin popping up in May and June, I put them in all of my desserts while they are at their peak and then I move on, when they’re not. As a result, every spring I get excited about the prospect of working with strawberries all over again.
For many years I put off this notion of “think globally and act locally” as some sort of new age gibberish, but I now believe with all my heart that the only way to improve our lives both individually and as a community is by supporting the farmer and artisans who live and work in our own back yard and then maybe when can move on to more global issues. Besides what better way is there to learn how to cook and make new friends, than by getting out to your local market and walking the stalls. Over time you can’t help but widen your culinary horizons and make new friends along the way.
I see so many people suffering from depression to the point where they almost can’t even leave their homes, and I begin to wonder that maybe the simple act of nurturing the life of a culinary plant in your own back yard, pounding out some homemade bread dough, or buying the best food you can from some one who cares, might help brighten a day just enough to make that crucial difference. Maybe we spend so much time in front of our computers, watching TV, or yapping on our cell phones, that we actually forget our inherent and inescapable connection to nature and the world around us.
So I say get out of the house. Take a walk down to the nearest garden, farmers market, or fresh fish stand, and then treat yourself and maybe a friend to some great food. If there is a paradise to be found in this world I suppose the first place to look for it, is within. Like everyone else I have seen some hard times, but even during my darkest hours someone has always come along, or something magical has happened that allowed me to get through another day. As a chef I get to give the gift of good food to those I love and I know from vast experience that the best way to brighten a day is to break bread with friends. If you don’t have any friends in the vicinity take some bread to the pigeons, lord knows their always grateful and they will certainly keep you company till you do.