I did not learn to cook until I was in my early twenties. Although I grew up in an Italian family that encouraged me, from an early age, to develop a proficiency in the culinary arts (or at the very least learn how to roll a proper meatball to accompany my grandmother’s marinara sauce), I had very little interest in being in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment at the age of 22 that I realized the value of knowing how to cook for myself. After about a week of subsisting on takeout and heavily processed microwave dinners, I deeply regretted how resistant I had been, for so many years, to my grandmother’s attempts at showing me around the kitchen. I knew then that the time had come. I decided I was going to become a cook, whether I liked it or not. Either I learned, or I perished.
What I hadn’t expected was that I would fall in love with cooking—that I would revel in spending countless hours in the kitchen honing my craft, experimenting with new ingredients, creating different flavor profiles, dabbling in various types of cuisine, and even advancing my skills in the art of presentation. It took a number of years, and many more mistakes, for me to be able to confidently, even elegantly, entertain a large crowd. Just as, I imagine, my grandmother had hoped I one day would. (For the record, Ina Garten is my present-day culinary heroine. Lidia Bastianich is an incredibly close second. Her food tastes like grandma’s house on a Sunday afternoon.) The many hours I’ve spent in the kitchen have been indispensable in the lessons they’ve taught me not simply about food, but also about the art of living, specifically in the area of human relationships. Here are some essential relationship tips I picked up while working in the kitchen. I hope you find them helpful.
From my table to yours…
Your food is a glimpse into your soul. Share it wisely, and share it often.
Just as you wouldn’t spend hours or days in the kitchen preparing an elaborate feast for someone you don’t care about, you wouldn’t invest the time and effort it takes to reveal your most sacred thoughts and feelings to just anyone (at least I hope you wouldn’t). But, when you find someone who is worth that kind of investment, really share yourself with that person, and do it often. Don’t hold back out of fear, or you’ll only be getting in your own way.
Don’t be afraid to eat your mistakes. Just don’t serve them to anyone else.
Over the years, I have eaten more of my own mistakes than I care to count. (Some of them were food, too.) We can’t avoid dealing with our mistakes simply because the process is unpleasant, especially when they impact someone else. After all, if you never eat a mistake, you’ll never know what you did wrong. So, swallow your words, if you have to. Say you’re sorry. Grovel if you acted like an idiot. And don’t make your problems your partner’s problems if they don’t have to be. Whatever mistake you made, it is vital that you remember how you made it. Don’t repeat that pattern because your mistake will taste just as bad going down the second time as it did the first.
Season, season, season.
Be every bit as romantic on the 5,935th day of your relationship as you were on the first. Go on dates. Surprise one another. Make your partner feel special. Never let things get bland. And do check often to see if any adjustments are necessary. Pay attention. There is no substitute for effort.
Don’t leave anything in hot water for too long.
Do you know what happens if you leave something in hot water for too long? It either gets tough, or it falls apart. Either way, it can quickly become inedible. Or, like a tea bag that’s been left to steep for hours and hours, it becomes so overpowering that you don’t want to get close enough to taste it. Don’t let anger go unresolved. Solve your problems while they are still small, before you become bitter and resentful. And don’t punish your partner for too long, either. Even if you’re hurt. Even if you’re angry. Even if he or she did something awful. Enough is enough. Because once you’ve let something sit in hot water for too long, you can’t fix it. It’s not like a mistake. This one’s got to be thrown away.
Love makes all the difference.
They say you can taste love. I think that’s true. Love is that extra something that takes a dish from good to great. It is an infusion of the chef’s passion. It is the act of giving. It is creation for the sole purpose of making another person happy. Put that kind of passion into what you do. Make your partner feel the love you put into even the smallest things. It will make all the difference.