When I eat food that I really love I am transported back to happy days of my childhood. Biscuits, good biscuits, take me to Holly Pond, Alabama, and my Aunt Shelby’s table, for she made the best biscuits I have ever tasted. She also introduced me to Golden Eagle table syrup, and taught me how to mix it with the proper amount of butter to create a spread that made her biscuits even better. Fried chicken finds me in Savannah, where my grandmother Ida is cooking, for 15 people, some of the best fowl to be found in the Deep South. Cornish hens belong in my memory to my mother, who is also a fine baker. My passion for food began at an early age, and I thank those three women on a regular basis.
I have been spending some time with my sister Julie and her family, and cooking with them. She has two children. Ian is 8 and Anna is 3, and they both love to eat. And, more importantly to me, they are adventurous eaters. Their parents have never told them “You won’t like this” or “That’s too hot for you” or “That doesn’t taste good,” things I’ve too often heard other people tell their children.
Julie and Mark and Ian, along with my parents, visited me in New York in 2007, when Ian was 2, and I recall a meal at Applewood in Brooklyn, one of my favorite restaurants in that borough. The owners are friends, and we were treated to a round of small plates from the kitchen by Lauren, including some house-made fromage de tête, which Ian loved. My father, who as a child was told too many times “you won’t like that,” left his share of the fromage de tête for Ian.
I’ve cooked scallops for Ian and Anna, and Mahi-mahi tacos. Ian and I make fresh pasta together – he has developed a great sense of proportion when it comes to flour and water. They both love my spicy shrimp and pasta, and devour the tiramisu I make. I love cooking for them and teaching them about the ingredients and methods.
I trust that when they are adults, on a culinary tour of France (with or without me), they will be sitting at a table in that fine place run by familie Bras and taste something – perhaps a small piece of venison, or a sublime La Croisicaise – that draws their minds and palates back to another table, one in Florida, one around which they gathered with adults who knew that a love of good, honest food was necessary to a life lived well, and that a childhood without taste was a poor one indeed.