Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Eat, drink and be merry
This month on Art of Life we feature our food and wine special. From Thomas Keller's artistic flair in his Napa Valley kitchen, to taking a centuries-old tradition of harvesting grapes for wine in the south of France and giving it a different twist to make vodka, we explore all that's involved in helping to make those special moments in our life memorable. Whether it's a wedding, a family gathering or just dinner with friends, what you eat and drink plays a special part. Let's face it, food and drink can make or break a party. More than anything, though, it's an opportunity to really enjoy life the way it should be: with those you love.

Growing up in Hong Kong and then Toronto, and having worked in North America and now Europe, I have seen similarities and differences in lifestyle, witnessed the choice between working to live and living to work, and of course experienced the many cuisines the continents have to offer.

Let's begin in Hong Kong. It has become this money-making metropolis where the New York Minute could very well be a tad bit slow for China's Special Administrative Region. Yet any Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning you'll find families filling up any and every dim sum restaurant where they gather to catch up on the week's events. See, for Chinese families (and for many ethnic families, actually), food is the glue that keeps relatives near and far together. I know at my parents' house in Toronto there is always something cooking. In fact, even before I arrive for a visit, my mother will have made many of my favorite dishes. They range from her specialty chicken curry or the unbelievable Chinese food she makes. And as much as I love her cooking (I can't tell you how much I miss it when I'm back in London), the one thing we all do when we're all together in Toronto is go to my favorite Shanghainese restaurant near our home. The noodles are mouth-watering and the dumplings are divine. Even though we usually order way too many dishes, I barely come up for air as I inhale all that's before me. It has become a tradition of sorts yet at the center of this tradition is food.

Unfortunately, though, those moments are few and far between. We get caught up in the daily grind of earning a living. Even in London, it's not too often where I get a chance to exercise my culinary talents (the few that are there). That's the thing, isn't it? Time -- or the lack of it. Many of us make do with frozen dinners or quick sandwiches to get us through the day. Food becomes a mere necessity and not an enjoyment to be savored. However, travel to parts of Europe where the lifestyle is centered around the idea of working to live and you'll find that meals are treated as the product of passion and a reason for their joie de vivre, like in Paris where even a glass of wine is taken slowly as the locals watch the world go by.

Food and a great drink are more than fuel. Done well and with one's whole heart, they fall into the categories of art, tradition and -- in some cases -- experimentation. My good friend Jenny Harrison who you'll see in this month's show, got a few tips from amazing chef Thomas Keller. Jenny is a fantastic chef in her own right. She's always trying out new recipes and is never afraid to take chances. I always looked forward to dinners at her home in Atlanta when I was living there. My favorite of her dishes are her pavlova and her melted brie stuffed with cranberries and walnuts. We would sit out on her porch on a warm summer evening eating a dessert that she's made, drink some wine, and just talk like two girl friends do. I would leave feeling warm and happy.

I guess the bottom line is that cooking and entertaining are not necessarily about creating something complicated and new. It's about having three crucial ingredients: a handful of eagerness, a whole lot of love and people you care about to share it with. Now that is definitely the kind of happiness worth pursuing.
Posted By Leetlegirl: Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Your story has brought back the long-lost pleasure of the table to me.

I've been living alone for a long time and eating has been mostly about alleviating my hunger.
But today, after reading your piece, I got a few friends together. I've reunited with my old friends and am enjoying Italian cuisine while catching up on our latest news at a small, cosy restaurant. It's really made my day.

It's a good reminder of the pleasure food can give us -- happiness and memories of sharing with people.

Having read this, I am missing the meals my mum made me. They're still the best!
Posted By Anonymous Jae-eun, South Korea : 12:28 PM, October 27, 2006
Watched your show. I live in wine country here in Washington State. Loved the show and the concept, but I would like to have seen some better quality beauty shots. Other than that, it was great. Can't wait for the next show.
Posted By Anonymous Kirk Kennewick, Washington : 6:16 PM, October 28, 2006
Sounds like an ideal life in Atlanta. The comfort ethnic foods are enticing and a welcome break from the fast food idium. I am from Cajun country and that home food feeling is the same down there. Thanks for the comparison. Looks like all cultures have the same effect -- just modified to fit the culture.
Posted By Anonymous Lynn, Lake Charles, LA : 10:57 PM, October 28, 2006
On food, drink, love, etc., any excess is always a bad indicator
... but, personaly, sometimes I love a gin and tonic.
Posted By Anonymous M�rio Silva - Lisbon - Portugal : 1:29 AM, October 29, 2006
Never a dull moment with Monita!You've made the art of eating an exciting experience for me. Wish you could come to Nigeria, where a lot of us eat not for pleasure but as a necessity. Hardly do people savor the taste and smell of food.
Posted By Anonymous JydaGirl,lagos,nigeria : 7:29 AM, October 31, 2006
Hi, I really enjoyed your show about Michelle Ong. I was wondering how i can get in touch with her.

I found this site:

I hope it's a valid one. Maybe you could just write a short piece on how to contact all these wonderful people that you meet.
Posted By Anonymous New York : 9:59 AM, November 01, 2006
Eat, drink & be merry ... sometimes it's all you can ask for and all you need.
Nice blog, my friend!
Posted By Anonymous Shanna, San Diego, CA : 3:32 PM, November 01, 2006
If the food doesn't smell good or taste nice, you wont see Nigerians patronizing such joints for a second time! We love and eat good food, and that's why the percentage of obese people is low compared to other parts of the world. You should visit Nigeria some day and savor the taste of the Nigerian barbecued meat called suya, among other delicacies like eba and edikaikon!
Posted By Anonymous Mahmoud .S, Abuja, Nigeria : 3:56 PM, November 01, 2006
Hello, I'm somebody who relishes and looks forward to mealtimes every day. I found out -- like you so accurately put it -- that it is an art and also quite entertaining. However, I now hope to switch from living to work and start working to live. Have a great day Monita.
Posted By Anonymous Adeyemi Adeniran, Lagos,Nigeria : 8:36 PM, November 03, 2006
I live in Spain,here it is a way of life .to eat drink and be merry.
yes all of us on this planet,should do
exactly that.eat drink and be merry.
Posted By Anonymous indira sil Madrid.Spain : 8:42 PM, November 13, 2006
Hi Monita, I realy liked your blog . i want to invite u with pleasur to visit my country and write about it. do you want to come?
im from Iran. we have realy nice country.....
tack care
Thanks Monita.
Posted By Blogger bardia : 5:50 PM, April 26, 2007
CNN anchor Monita Rajpal blogs about her experiences filming the "Art of Life" show.

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.