In a world of on-the-go and fast eating, it can be easy to forget the taste of food made with purpose.
When you do encounter thoughtfully-made food, however, the experience can be truly profound.
We were fortunate to have such an experience out of the kitchen and in the foothills of jungles just north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. We thought we were going on a trekking and hiking adventure, but little did we know that we were in for an enlightening lesson on the world of food.
Our teacher was Bundito, a true renaissance man in his own right. In our 8 kilometers spent together through narrow passages, rice paddy fields and slippery trails, he seemed to have some sort of lesson – be it about the region’s history, local culture or eating habits – at every turn. Finally, our professor and troop leader guided us to an inauspicious hut in the middle of the jungle, which would serve as our home for the night.
The sunset signaled it was time to start cooking dinner, and our bed & living room quickly doubled as a kitchen & dining room. Having stocked up on fresh vegetables before our trek, Bundito put us to work chopping and pounding all sorts of ingredients in mortar and pestles while he went foraging for fresh herbs from the surrounding natural gardens.
Even during prep work, Bundito had an admirable focus and deep care for the process. Each mash in the mortar and pestle mattered as fresh ingredients turned into paste. He said the heavy pounding sound that comes from this process is one that always makes him happy, as it means good food is on it’s way.
When cooking time arrived, simplicity reigned supreme. There were no frills, no frou-frou, and definitely no sous-vide in this kitchen. Our job was simply to guide the dish along its own path towards delicious creation and nothing else.
What struck us both was how much less stressful and more approachable this style of cooking proved to be. So long as we stayed mindful and attentive to the sights, sounds and smells of the cooking, the entire process remained relatively laissez-faire.
The end result was otherworldly. Having already tried many a curry in our lifetimes, we were awe-struck with how the flavors stood out… how each ingredient put forth its best taste… and how harmoniously everything came together in every bite. This grounding cooking and eating experience remains etched in our memories even after all these years.
For us as cooks, that was a seminal moment out of the kitchen for us that illustrated the power of cooking with purpose. Even for something as everyday as a caponata, a chorizo sandwich or a papaya salad, you’ll easily “taste the love” if it’s there.
We’ve tried to stay true to Bundito’s notion of “mindful cooking” as we continue on in our own cooking and blogging endeavors. It hasn’t been easy – and we fall short just as often as we succeed – but the improvements in the food we create and share with our readers have been substantial.
Want to meet purveyors who are making a difference with their customers? Check out BonAppetit.com’s “Out of the Kitchen”, an ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. See how hyper-local food markets operate and how their focus on quality and service keep customers coming back for more.