Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
In my early twenties, I had an epiphany. I was in graduate school toiling my way toward what I’d hoped would become a professorship in anthropology and linguistics. I thought my complete fascination with the way culture expresses itself through language would never fade, when I suddenly found the kitchen consuming way more of my attention than the library. I was confused and conflicted until I woke up to one important truth: I was learning as much about cultures by recreating their spicing and cooking methods as I had by studying the way they string together words. The kitchen was becoming my unique and comfortable window to culture. And for that, I had a head start: I’d grown up working in my family’s barbeque restaurant in Oklahoma City, and I understood first-hand how food reflects the history and geography of a place. I had seen how food binds people together with a sense of regional pride. Especially barbeque.
But after several years of this culinary cultural exploration, I recognized that I wasn’t attracted to just any culture. I’d done my undergraduate work in Spanish language and literature and Latin American studies, and Mexico felt more like a spiritual and culinary home to me than anywhere else on the planet. More than the barbeque pits I’d grown up with, more than the gastronomic Meccas of France and Italy, China or Japan. I found Mexico’s confluence of cultures—Indigenous, Spanish, African, French, Japanese, Chinese—rich with flavor and fascination. The country’s wildly diverse regional cuisines blended with that legendary hospitality and effervescent spirit of fiesta became my obsession. (more…)