by Eugenio Plaja


As a cook 90% of my day is spent tasting things. My life, for the last 7 years or so, has revolved around constantly putting a spoonful of this, or a forkful of that into my mouth and thinking, “Is this too salty?” or “It needs acid!” The one thing I have learned from this assault on my tongue is that with the incessant but unavoidable barrage comes the loss of a sense of place. You begin to taste and not remember the experience of the taste. Where was it that you supped a certain flavor? What was the weather like? What time of day was it? Who were you with? Even when I go out to eat, I tend to find myself eschewing the memory of the actual MEAL for the memory of the taste.

So today, I opened a can of Sprite. The instant it hit my mouth I was transported back to when I must have been no more than nine years old, plopped in a deck chair five sizes too big, on a hot summer’s eve in Summit, New Jersey. The loud chatter of a typically large extended Italian family and pretty much anyone else our gracious hostess Enelia could round up, echoed from the patio, as smoke billowed off the grill. The television could be heard blaring from the open living room windows, even though nobody was really watching. Soon we were all to be bombarded¬†with more food than any of us could dream of handling. Sausages, pasta, salads, steaks, you name it, Enelia cooked it. And you ate, boy did you eat. Lest you dared bearing the shame of being hand/force-fed in front of everybody. Being full was not an option.

This remembrance begged the question: how could a boy, so blissfully unaware of place, time and his own palate, manage to retain so much from one experience? What triggered my subconscious to go back to that event? While I am not quite sure what the answers are, I do know that they definitely give me a fair amount to consider going into this Christmas holiday. Whoever came up with the¬†over used idiom “stop and smell the roses” probably had no idea how right they were. Take time to stop and enjoy whatever it is you are doing in the moment. Don’t be so focused on the what, without the where, when, how, and why. We are trained to focus so hard on achieving the next level or the next goal that we think will bring us happiness, when happiness could simply be clutching a can of ice-cold Sprite.

Chefs tend to live their lives at a million miles an hour. Working hard, playing harder and rarely taking the time to step back and see the whole picture. Hopefully I’ll be able to slow everything down enough so that in 20 years, something will jolt me back to Christmas 2015 just as vividly as that Sprite took me back to the summer of ’94.

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