Cooking from the heart

Editor’s Note: Michael Anderson and his wife, Fayelle, started Bar Harbor’s original Miguel’s Restaurant in 1983 and ran it for 12 years. He also has headed food service for College of Atlantic and The Jackson Laboratory. At present, he and Fayelle operate August Moon Catering.

By Michael Anderson

Special to The Ellsworth American

Cooking, if done with mindfulness, can feed the soul as well as the body. We are largely focused on healthy eating these days, and as a professional chef I’m inclined to also pay attention to what mental state I’m in when I’m cooking. Like the old adage from a comedian, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” My version is “It’s not what you cook, but how you cook it.”

Cooking can seem like a chore at times, but it can also be an experience that enriches us and brings a sense of pride and gratitude. Cooking can be a meditation, an honoring of nature’s bounties, a moment of connection to what sustains our bodies. Cooking can be an art form and a way to tap into our source of inspiration and creativity.

As you cook a meal, I recommend clearing your mind and focusing on cooking as if in a meditation. Try turning off distractions, TV, news, cell phones, etc. Get quiet. Make the act sacred. If there are children about, try including them in the meal preparation as a family activity. You may discover new avenues of bonding as well as teaching basic skills like math, chemistry and attention to detail.

I recently made tamales with my 6-year-old granddaughter and I spoke Spanish with her during the process. She proudly ran home with a plate of warm tamales to share with her family. Teaching cooking to children imparts valuable life skills that last.

I was fortunate to grow up in an extended Italian family where cooking and eating was a grounding, nourishing and bonding time together. The energy of a lovingly cooked meal somehow imparts the food with healing energy and better flavor. When cooking, I try to be in a state of gratitude. Gratitude crowds out stressful or negative thoughts and aligns us with a sense of appreciation.

Consider making your cooking space a relaxing environment. I suggest music that you love, perhaps glass of good wine. A clean, organized kitchen helps clear the mind of clutter. If your mind is quiet, you can almost hear the ingredients talking to you. Sometimes, as I lay my ingredients out on the counter for “mise en place” (French cooking term for gathering together your ingredients), I ask the food, “What do you want to make tonight?” It’s a humorous and fun way to open my mind to possibilities and creativity. Inspiration can come from the strangest places.

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