I find food, and have always found food, among the most interesting topics of research and discussion. And while I had never considered why this was so, it was clear when discussing food with my dad that my love of food and the passion that is poured into it stemmed from his way of preparing food for me when I was growing up.
As I watched the penne pasta being tossed in a bed of heirloom tomatoes, spinach, and chicken, I asked my questions regarding my dad’s past with food and what it was like to cook meals for my brother and I when we were younger. The kitchen was filled with the earthy aroma of the spinach and not wanting to waste precious time that could be spent devouring the dish I pressed on with my questions. Not many of the responses regarding myself were too shocking to hear; I was never a picky eater and was just as adventurous as I currently am. This was information I already knew though and I was more interested in finding out about my dad’s own past experiences with food than my own.
His favorite dish to make before getting married?
It was simple, only using one pot and combined his favorite tastes: spicy and cheesy. This could have been the perfect explanation of why I liked to try and master different techniques to make cooking my favorite dishes faster and more efficient. Not that my dad didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I more associate it with the simplicity of stewing odds and ends together from the deep contents of the refrigerator to make something simple, much like a college student like myself would appreciate.
His most successful method of getting my brother and I to eat what was good for us?
Hide it in the macaroni and cheese.
This not only explained my eternal addiction to the cheesy dish and its different combinations but also explained my constant experimentation with adding and improving to the simplicity of its original form.
His signature dish?
That was easy: his after-Thanksgiving turkey enchiladas.
These were like little savory morsels; a perfect fusion of American and Latin cuisine like our household had become accustomed to. Although my dad did the majority of the cooking for us when we were younger and used a lot of dishes and techniques which came from his Italian background, my mom also did some of the cooking for us as well. This allowed for my brother and I to not only experience my dad’s heritage through cuisine but my mother’s Salvadorian and Spanish heritage as well. I believe that this diversity was what allowed for my palette to be craving development at such a young age; experimentation in cooking was just something my dad said I was always interested in.
He brought up one particular memory of cooking polenta in our tiny San Francisco apartment. Although I never got the pronunciation correct, there I stood by his side, watching the ingredients go into the saucepan and stirring intently, determined not to let it curdle at the bottom. I guess you could say that it was the first dish that I can remember cooking alongside my dad. Many dishes have come and gone since then, but the polenta (or “polentia” as I once referred to it as) has always been the recipe that I remember making with dad for the first time.
So while I did not have a lot of solutions of how to deal with a picky eater in the family, I did know one thing for sure; that dad’s methods were some of the best and allowed for my curiosity for food to blossom and grow instead of stifle and stop at a certain point in my life. And while my dad says he taught himself how to cook, I know that I’ll be cooking using his methods and recipe ideas for myself in the future.
Father to daughter, those after-Thanksgiving turkey enchiladas just had to be passed down somehow.