Food is a lot like us.
The processes by which a complex flavor is made can be somewhat intense. Extreme heat, violent dismemberment, tedious waits under controlled conditions, careful pruning, exposure to disagreeable counterparts. And every time the simple, base ingredient is put through one of these processes, it is changed (not always for the better, but that is the hope). In many ways the beginning product is the same, and yet it is completely different. Flavors deepen. Colors change. Textures develop. If the flavor is simple it is because it has not experienced enough.
Sometimes flavors are overpowering and need to be made more subtle so they can work well with the other elements on the plate; other flavors are so delicate that they must be drawn out so they can be noticed at all. Some elements need to be broken down before they are at all usable, others to be built up. All are needed, all have their place. Not that anything was “wrong” with these things before, they simply cannot be used in the way needed while in their raw state. Some are too bitter, some are too sweet; some will even make you sick. They must go through a change.
Before the dish takes form and the ingredients are being prepared it’s easy to look around and think, “How the hell is this going to come together?” The fires blaze, the ovens rage, remnants of discarded waste pile up, nothing looks the way it was intended. But if you make it through this stage you begin to see the evidence of what you hoped for in the beginning. The aroma changes, you can smell it. The liquid thickens, you can see it. It doesn’t feel so much like chaos because the end is in sight. As the elements come together, the anchor, the main, the side, the sauce, the garnish, the final touch, you almost forget what they started as. Almost. But the sweat on your brow, the burns on your hands, the smell of smoke on your skin stand as reminders of what it took to get there. And I can’t help but think that food is a lot like us.