Featured Illustration: Alison Czinkota
My earliest memory in the kitchen was at my grandfather’s elbow as he makes sweet potato pie, looking down at me, winking as he added an obscene amount of sugar.
The scene continues to recreate itself. But I get taller, lankier, the kitchens change over time, but I was always at his elbow. Or not far off, calling his name, “papa.”
The scene continues to recreate itself. I’m chopping green, red, and yellow bell peppers, eating them along the way. Small hands dropping a few as I carry them to the heated pan. Or gently stirring cake batter in a bowl that feels so big to me I thought I’d fall in.
I was young and I don’t remember much but I do remember feeling like it was just me and my grandfather in a world of our own making. Towers of cheese, rivers of maple syrup, a mountain of watermelon. We were so small in our massive world of food.
But one day, I grew up and I didn’t care to be a sous chef anymore.
I did eventually find my way back to the kitchen, though. This time without my grandfather, who passed away six years ago.
When I was in quarantine with my parents, after graduating college, I felt like I was floating in the middle of the ocean. Not in a calming-I’m-the-only-person-in-the-world sort of way, but in a there-are-sharks-eels-and-other-unknowable-creatures-floating-right-beneath-me sort of way. I didn’t know what I was doing, what I wanted to do, and I could not recall how I spent the last four years.
Days began to run together and surrounded by paraphernalia from another life (high school), I felt like I was starting to unravel in the most gentle way possible.
I stepped back into the kitchen out of boredom. I was hungry. I texted my friend asking for a Thai Green Curry recipe and got to work. As I hunched over the yellow cutting board, carefully slicing green and red bell peppers, fresh basil, setting out my spices and pastes, a familiar feeling crept around me.
I was in another world.
It was just me in the kitchen, building my world. The process felt sacred and plush to me; lemongrass, basil, and garlic mixing with the sweet smell of coconut milk. I was falling in love with the process.
I found myself in the kitchen every night after that. Stirring, sauteeing, folding, cutting, shredding — it became a ritualised practice and my mind wandered back to when the top of my head just grazed the counter.
And it became a way to remember my grandfather. Looking back, I think about how I fell into this practice of “cooking as a remembrance” subconsciously; my body knew before my brain recognized it.
Taking the time to cook, slowly and intentionally, has brought me a lot of joy and peace and has helped me in navigating the grief surrounding my grandfather’s passing. It offers me a haven from the whirlwind that is daily life; a chance to slow down, and a connection to someone I loved and lost, across the vastness of time and space.