French toast is my personal breakfast of champions. I don’t make it often. But every now and again, especially on a Saturday morning, I’ll get a craving and the siren song of good bread, pan-fried in a cast-iron skillet, dripping with a generous dose of beaten egg and cream is impossible to deny. Add some blueberries, warm maple syrup, zest of orange, and perhaps a dash of cinnamon, and boom: your day is practically guaranteed to be a good one.
An indulgent late-morning breakfast is perfect, especially if you return to bed with a mug of coffee and a stack of cookbooks or a lineup of cooking shows in your queue. Of late, my favorites are essentially travelogues overlaid with the classic Joseph Campbellian arc: the hero’s journey, culinary style.
Watch any episode of the truly wonderful Chef’s Table and you’ll find the same narrative played out again and again. A chef goes to French cooking school, inherits a family restaurant, or follows some other formal or highly-constrained trail into the profession. After years (usually about 7-12 years) of doing their best to conform to the dictates of their training, the chef has a breakthrough! Often this breakthrough is preceded by an accident or unexpected challenge (a challenge even greater than the already back-breaking job of trying to keep a restaurant afloat). These ‘aha’ moments enable the chef to see more clearly. Suddenly, they see into their own soul and turn everything on its head.
The moral of every episode is that true happiness, genius, award-winning food and a huge base of loyal fans come only when the chef finally listens to their own inner voice. The truth of their own vision (native to their own culture, region and/or artistic sensibility) is undeniable. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Regardless of which season or episode of Chef’s Table I’m watching—or how many times I’ve seen it, I’m entirely mesmerized by every word and image. I watch rapt, with a huge smile on my face. It’s like the story you long to have read to you again and again as a kid. The one where the good guy always wins and the dragon is slain.
It’s a satisfying story for adults, too: “To thine own self be true.” A good, hardworking person really can win. Stories really can have a happy ending in real life—especially when people get in the zone and tune out the noise/crowd/popular opinion and go with the flow. I find it endlessly inspiring and uplifting. I also take heart from seeing how many of these chefs challenge themselves to always come up with a new menu or never write down recipes and only make things up based on their intuition. I’m no chef, but that’s the exact magic of the cooking process that makes being in the kitchen so special to me.
I dream about food and food combinations in my sleep and I feel driven to try them out. I feed my subconscious with three favorite tomes: The Flavor Bible, The Garden Chef, and Wild Flavors. In one way or another, each book is an anthem to intuitive cooking and the near-mystical/spiritual relationship between the garden and the kitchen (even on a winter’s day when most of my garden is dormant and sunshine is elusive). I can see spring in my mind’s eye, and I enjoy my reverie, filled with future dishes and flavors and magical scents that will delight me in my days and dreams ahead.