An ode to Fathers and Food
I think the way we pass down family recipes, handle ourselves in a kitchen and share meals says wonders about who you are, where you came from and where you might go in life. Some of the greatest life lessons and stories are told in a kitchen or shared over a meal. But for the most part fathers are often excluded from this process. So why are dad’s sent out of the kitchen or relegated only to BBQ and grilling? What about the stories of dads who do cook?
Some of the fondest memories I have of my dad are in the kitchen. After coming home from a long days work, nothing pleased my dad more than going to the kitchen to whip up pasta dish from whatever he could find in the pantry or fridge. These dishes, still to this day, remain as some of the best pasta dishes i’ve ever eaten. Never knowing what or how much of any ingredient he puts in, makes these comfort meals impossible to ever recreate. Ironically, my dad has one of the largest cookbook collection I’ve ever seen. He has a accumulated a collection larger than the cookbook sections at Chapters and Coles combined. Hundreds upon hundreds of books decorate the walls of his library, stack along the sides of his bedroom and pile sky high in the washroom. Yet I have never seen my dad use a recipe from start to finish in the 25 years I’ve been alive. The way he understands food and cooking also reflects (in my opinion) his philosophy for parenting. He taught us to always to be learning, have the resources (re: library of cookbooks) at hand but rely on your creativity to make something truly special (re: unique pasta dishes).
Here are a handful of his recipes, I mean lessons for life…
Never say you don’t like something unless you’ve tried it
As children, my sister and I were forced to eat everything. And I couldn’t be more thankful. There was none of this picky “no I don’t eat that” talk I hear so often nowadays. More often than not and despite my reluctance to eat things that didn’t sound like they could be served in a happy meal, I really enjoyed them. Through food, my dad taught me some of the most important lessons I could ever learn. When we refused to eat garlic and buttered escargo, he had none of it. Unbeknownst to my sister and I, he was really teaching us a lesson about being open minded and adventurous. And best of all, we really did like snails, especially drenched in butter, cheese and garlic.
You are not allowed to leave the table unless you are excused
Before I could remember, my dad started his own construction company in and around the GTA. Nights were long and dinners with the whole family were hard to come by. When they did happen, table rules were in full effect. You were not to leave the table unless you were excused. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. This was a lesson is patience and discipline. There was no phone call, msn chat msg (yes, MSN chat was my generation’s version of BBM and text msging), even homework, too important than sitting at the dinner table with your family. I plan to do the same with my children one day.
Always use a spoon (and fork) when eating pasta. Cut your pasta with a knife and lose a finger.
And he meant it. Cutting your pasta with a knife was a cardinal sin in my house. I always worried of the friends who would come over for dinner, not knowing the knife the rule, ask for a knife and be catapulted into a long conversations with my dad about Italian traditions and the ‘cardinal knife sin’. The worst happened when a long time friend of mine came over for dinner one evening and asked for ketchup with his pasta. My family and my father especially had no words. He believed that pasta was meant to be cooked Al Dente, or thrown out. Eaten with a spoon and fork, or not at all. To an Italian, cutting pasta is an insult to their culture and hundreds of years of food preparation. This was a lesson in respect. I know what you might be thinking, really respect? Yes, respect. As foodie, and someone who photographs food both professional and for fun, I quickly learned that it is about respect for the ingredients, the land they come from and how they are consumed that is paramount.
Spoon and Fork
Play devils advocate – when possible at the dinner table
There was never a dull moment at our house. After the standard dinner “How was your day at school” “What did you learn?” banter, my dad would organize my sister and I into a full fledge hot topic debate. He would decide on a tough issue like capital punishment or freedom of speech, give us each 5 minutes to formulate an argument and debate. When we were finished, he would get us to switch seats and debate the opposite side. Did I mention that I was barely in middle school at the time? This was a lesson in compassion and skillful litigation. He wanted us to understand each side, put ourselves in someone elses shoes and understand that there is always two, if not more, sides to a story.
He saw the time spent around the dinner table as an opportunity to teach my sister and I about life, values and our traditions. I carry these lessons with me where ever I go.
My sister and Dad
Happy Fathers Day Dad. In the words of my dad, Love you, Miss You, Be Safe, Have Fun.
What about other dads in the kitchen?
In honour of fathers day, I thought it would be fun to share some stories of other dad who inspire their children to cook and appreciate food. Apron Strings, Fiesta Farms’ new fathers day campaign, aims to bring dads back in the kitchen and celebrate the dads who are passing down family recipes. While all the videos are amazing, I’ve picked three of my favourite. Here they are!
Hussein, father of three, shows us how to make colombian sweet bread and some clever and fun tips for cooking with children. I loved this video because it reminded me how important it is to be playful in the kitchen. Far too often, parents with busy schedules runing from ballet to soccer practice or worse, who bubble wrap their kids from the kitchen, take the kitchen way too seriously. Hussein breaks it down for the kids, using nicknames and metaphors like ‘building a volcano’ to describe making and needing the bread dough. Best of all, the kids break out into an impromtu staring contest.
I absolutely loved this video. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tony was a high school history teacher. You can really tell that part of cooking with him is also a lesson in history and culture. As he takes us through the ingredients, he teachers us the difference between chicken korma and curry and weaves in titbits of India’s history. His warm, encouraging and welcoming attitude makes cooking with kids accessible and enjoyable! I left watching this video wanting to just give him a big old hug.
How could I write a piece about fathers day without talking about grandfathers! This video reminded me a lot of my own dad. His bright red Hawaiian shirt is something you might also find in my dad’s closest. In this video, Leo’s teaches his granddaughter Audrey how to make shrimps in lobster sauce. Leo’s philosophy in the kitchen is all about safety, cleanliness and fun. He talks of the importance of teaching Audrey about food, saying that “you grow together, you eat together and you play together”. Too cute!
Big thanks to Fiesta Farms for celebrating dads in the kitchen!