How to cultivate a soulful kitchen

I used to think that the kitchen was a place of oppression now I find it's the space where I find liberation. And inspiration. The more I cook, the more I understand that what I am doing is a sacred act. I realize that I am in the kitchen because I want to be, not because I have to be. And that is the major difference between a meal that is lovingly prepared, as opposed to something that is quickly thrown together because duty calls for it.

A few months back, I prepared a lavish dinner for my mother who was traveling back to her home in the Caribbean. Preparing five different dishes from scratch was a very ambitious and generous act on my part, especially because I am a neophyte in the culinary arts. But, my beloved mother is worth every bit of time and effort. I tapped into the chef inside of me with heart and soul and prepared two different kinds of shrimp dishes, camarones enchilados and al ajillo, two different kinds of baked chicken, rosemary and Puerto Rican style, a salted cod salad with fresh farmer's market kale, two different kinds of bean casseroles. Oh, did I mention that I baked a corn cake?

I shopped for the ingredients with delight, I cooked with love. It's remarkable what an ordinary act executed with mindfulness and soul can turn into an extraordinary experience.

There is wisdom in being mindful not just with choosing what you nourish your body with but also how it's prepared. My dear friend, the late Chef Maximo Tejada's secret ingredient to his award winning dishes was his loving and pure energy. His number one rule in his kitchen was attitude. If he was stressed, he's take a walk, meditate and come back when heart and mind were tranquil. And he demanded this of all who worked in his kitchen. He was clear that one's energy is always an ingredient, something that few recognize. I always remember Maxi when I enter my kitchen whether I am making a pb&j, a smoothie or a complicated casserole.

Cultivating a soulful kitchen is exactly what Maxi personified--a pure heart filled with love and intention. 

A soulful kitchen doesn't need the best gadgets or cooking accoutrement's or a grand space. It posseses love, a peaceful heart and joy.  

As a child I could taste when mom cooked in a bad mood or rushed. I bet if you are mindful, you could also taste the energy added to your meals. Intended or not, the energy is present. As a child, my paternal grandma who was blind in her later years due to cataracts would ask me to get herbs, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, sweet peppers. These and many more herbs grew wild in her humble yard. While she prepared our meals, her toothless smile and songs, was something amazing to witness. Her simple meals were extravagant. I am sure that it's not memory playing tricks on me for love and joy was present every step of the way.

Back in my kitchen I got a huge surprise two hours before my guest of honor was to arrive. Mom called to cancel because something extraordinary came up that would keep her from enjoying the feast. I was crushed. It took me a few minutes to recover and process but the fact is that many times, life goes not as you plan but as life wants. The meal that was so lovingly prepared was ready and the evening went on with two of my siblings and their families. 

And what a glorious time we had. As we sat across the table,  kids and adults talked and laughed ate and bonded. 

Cooking is a sacred act that so many of us take for granted. And so is eating. We live in the land of fast food. The thing is that nothing is fast about food. The ADHD culture around our meals and our consumption of meals is killing us softly.

In world cultures, cooking is held in high regard. Drinking coffee, sipping tea, breaking bred is slow, and wonderful. These are precious moments where all activities stop and nourishment takes place not just of the body but the soul. And it's not just preparing and eating, other cultures set aside time for the digestion to take place, it's called a siesta. The dessert of the ancestors that we have forgotten to practice. Let's bring it all back.

If you want to cultivate a soulful kitchen, each time you step in, let your mantra be one that has love,  a peaceful heart and joy.  


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