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.