“We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.
The rest is the madness of art.” - Henry James
When I started becoming a passionate cook, I realized that the moment you close the door of your kitchen everything outside ceases to exist. Locking your kitchen-door behind you is like locking out the whole world. My kitchen is my fortress of forks, knives, plates, pots and healthy food; a hidden shelter where I can be forgotten; a magic place where I can feel like Odysseus in Aiaia, like Edgar Allan Poe in his Kingdom by the Sea, like Alice in her Wonderland; a safe, secret haven where I become whom I really am.
Before I moved into my kitchen, I knew as little about food as Alice knew about Wonderland when she first ran after the sprightly white rabbit. Today, cooking for me is not just cooking, as such; rather, what you call cooking for me is my search for meaning, happiness and life's aims. It is my whole identity-pie carefully baked out of the most precious recipes from throughout my life. My dreams are here, at the bottom of these iron pots, waiting to boil up over the top and present some flavor to the world outside.
When the sun starts rising, when it starts consuming the earth into its endless, bright stomach, I return home, head straight for the lingering piquant kitchen aromas via the esophagal corridor, ignoring the bland rooms on both sides. Apart from the savory, cozy kitchen, my house is tasteless: stark, bare and naked. I generally do not enjoy the presence of unnecessary dust collectors filling up the whole house. But when I took over my parents' home, I tried for a while to cope with the clutter, for weeks I removed, arranged and rearranged all the furniture, but no matter which way I designed it, it did not please my taste. Finally, I decided to release my inner emptiness from the secret room of my soul, its first step at the doormat of my home. The only room I all but left unchanged was my kitchen.
Since you were probably wondering why I go home at the first rays of sunlight, I will share with you why my nights are your days and why during your days I don´t exist. As soon as I disappear behind my kitchen-door, I withdraw from life, as such. Before I disrobe my soul for your discerning eyes, dear Reader, I need you to promise not to judge me. I need you to understand me, be with me in my kitchen, look over my shoulder while I cook, and eat with me from my own plate. Always remember that, ultimately, empathy is the main ingredient of the dishes I will serve you in the next four courses of my menu. So please, Reader, be patient, try to imagine me most authentically, perceive me, otherwise, I probably won´t exist.
First Course: Appetizer
If you determine the opposite of a vegan and subtract a fruitarian (one who only eats fruits and vegetables without destroying the plant, eg. an apple but not a potato), and also subtract coke-drinker, nutella-eater, gummy-bear-devourer, dividing up also everything else upon which modern humans find fun in nourishment, then I would be the result of this equation. I live on a a strict animal-products-diet. After having had my principal residence in my kitchen for several years already, I can tell you that healthy cooking has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I just had a giant mirror installed in the ceiling over my kitchen table.
I strongly believe that eating animal products like meat, fish, natural animal fats, cheese, eggs etc. while restricting carbohydrates (mostly from vegetation) from one´s menu, does not only make a person healthier and live longer, but also prevents and cures major human diseases, starting from reducing cancer-tumors, to preventing heart attacks. The scientists now call these DOC's, (diseases of civilization).
Many exposing, misleading, incorrect, fraudulent scientists and average people however, view the idea of food-as-medicine, or more precisely, food instead of medicine, as an oxymoron. Talk to a mainstream doctor about a meat-and fat-diet instead of drugs to cure diabetes, and he will empty his whole garbage pail of thoughts right onto your head. Tell your caring mother or nurturing grandmother that you´d like to waive fruits and vegetables from your daily meals, and they will eat you alive. No failures in your academic life, no miserable jobs, not even a lousy choice of partner, nothing will shock them more than a sudden non-conventional change in your diet.
Summing up, I can only announce with deep regret that the bad eating habits of the “Westernized” Homo Sapiens species, especially among its youth, have become an international health disaster in the 21st Century. In fact, by denying or not knowing that solid health depends on the quality of calories we ingest, and not their quantity, the whole Western World is committing slow mass suicide. Whoever claims that it is not true, has not done his homework.
Health education can be convincing and very important, but knowledge alone most probably won´t change people´s behavior. Since our governments are not taking any responsibility to protect their subjects from the harmful shakes and sheiks of the food and pharmaceutical industries, another solution must be found; so, I have decided to rise up and struggle for human health by carrying the cross of their sins upon my compassionate shoulders.
No, I don´t think I´m the Christian Messiah and here to save all the poor, sick and mentally retarded; neither do I consider myself the Robespierre of a dietary revolution: I am well aware of the fact that my stormy efforts won´t produce a big movement. They will affect only a small number of select people. As a solution for the masses, my lonely fight has a clear expiration date. I will disappear like a little splash in a big puddle; but for the one, for the one person whose life I will make palatable, my small action will make the difference. And maybe, only maybe, my splash will not simply perish, but also wet some fortuitous observers and wake them from their nutritional slumber.
Second Course: Beef Leg in Coconut Sauce
If you feel unable to change a problem, change your attitude towards it. I have chosen the only way I knew to cope with the problem of unhealthy diets: I started going to people´s houses and cooking for them. I don´t remember how exactly it all began...or maybe I just don´t want to tell you...but I always liked to watch others shop: Fat girls desperately hunting low-fat, sugary-yoghurts which promised them a rapid butt-reduction; diabetics proudly carrying home fructose-based diet chocolate (fructose is the worst type of sugar!), and vegetarians with meat-starved eyes jumping out like wild Tarzans from behind the shelves of vegetation packing dates and tropical fruits in their veiny hands.
Yet, a few years and several supermarkets later, I happened to feel nostalgic about these people´s lost future, and though compassion soaked itself through every single one of my fibers, I was too shy to argue with these naïve victims of errant health enlightenment, even to call their attention to the ingredients listed on the packages of their future meals.
The more I pitied these victims of the system, the more I realized that pity is a sign of being human, but a bad habit to have. It teaches us to be passive to other people´s misery. By ignoring their grievances, we actually deny their existence. I did not want to choke on my own compassion towards these fellow humans, so I decided to go through the whole ordeal and chop through and sift out the obstacles.
And here´s how I do it: I break into people´s houses to cook for them, throw out their junk food and rearrange their lives and the lives inside their refrigerators. I´m not a simple burglar, though if I find money or articles of value, I do take them with me of course as a kind of allowance and also in order to cover my shopping expenses (Sorry to disappoint you this time but nowadays only birds volunteer to sing for free).
Usually it takes me a long time until I am satisfied with the results of my projects. Normally, I choose the worst shopper in the supermarket and accompany him or her for several weeks on disastrous shopping-tours. I carefully keep a diary about the food my godchild buys, study his/her taste, and take notes on the amount of carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats in every purchase. I always feel with every new person as if I´m starting anew. Each one of them becomes a unique fragment of my private life.
After knowing all their eating habits and designing a menu for the one I´ve chosen, I start waiting... I wait for the risky and exciting part to begin, when he or she leaves the house for a night or for the whole weekend to come back and discover that someone has been taking care of his/her kitchen.
I love my job, and I strongly believe that we should be doing what we love, otherwise, if you have never done what you love, what have you done then? Good food adds such a pleasant taste to the world that you stop caring whether what you do is “right” or “wrong”, as long as it is a part of its preparation process.
I often go back weeks after accomplishing my mission to make sure that the hosts have adopted my concept. In case they went back to their suicidal lifestyle, I am forced to break into their kitchen anew, eliminate the poisons and replace them again with healthy, life-extending meats. It is my major goal to achieve long-term changes in people´s eating behavior. Yet, of course, even I have my limitations: Saving their lives is not worth losing mine. I cannot afford dying for a goal...but I can afford to live for one. I learned it from my friend Dostoyevsky who said: “The secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for.”
I remember this huge house I had to break into twelve times. The owner was a British diabetic with a 2x2m refrigerator overfilled with fruit juices, diet-chocolate (with 72g carbs per 100g!), and all sorts of pastries. He obviously didn´t appreciate my cooking and always left my dishes untouched, thus making me feel humiliated and angry. On night twelve he happened to be prepared for my usual so-well-organized visits. No, he hadn´t called the police, he was welcoming me with a flashlight in the lingering darkness of his living room.
“Don´t move! Who are you and what do you want here?!” he yelled at me. And I was thinking “No wonder the British have always been known for their sense of hospitality,” while viewing his elephantine mass removing some of the air from the room, shifting its enormous weight from one leg to another, as if neither of them would volunteer to take responsibility for its burden.
I was amused by the fact that it took him twelve weeks to discover my regular appearances. Well, constantly keeping in mind on my ephemeral sojourns that I am only a guest chef, I never leave any signs of intrusion. As Adorno said “The highest form of morality is not to feel at home in other people´s houses.” The only indicators of an external break-in are the cooked meals and the obligatory removal of unhealthy junk.
“Hello, I´m your diet adviser“ – I replied- “- and I came here to do you a favor, to throw away your shitty diet candies that only aggravate your diabetes, and to cook a beef leg in coconut sauce for you. I came here to save you, unworthy chump; but now that you´ve seen me, I am obliged, unfortunately, to use my still frozen beef leg against you... .”
Third Course: Beef Steak from the Pan
Ever since that night, guilt has become another bitter aftertaste in my dishes.
I´m working undercover. I have strict limitations in giving out my privacy. I cannot allow a mistake to happen. I take my work very seriously and it cannot tolerate witnesses.
So for the rare cases where I encountered spicy confrontations, I needed to develop my own disposal-strategy by hitting my opponents over the head with a big metal pan. It´s an efficient method that requires only one decisive overarm movement and guarantees you an immediate effect.
Whenever I doubt or hesitate implementing the disposal-strategy, I hear Dostoyevsky whispering softly into my ear: “A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes.” No dilemma there! I do not consider myself a murderer, perhaps a mild killer, but definitely not a piquant, low-class murderer, since I don't intend or enjoy killing people, heavens no! It´s simply a necessary measure in ominous situations. This is self-defense, after all! I´m a fighting soldier with a cause! I have the aim to defend, not to kill. So far my mission required only five lives, that's not bad, I dare say, considering all the risks I take with multiple intrusions to each slovenly kitchen! And even with such moral justification, I still remember and venerate all of them: The ballerina-lady who gracefully set her dog against me (how dare she after all I'd done for her asthmatic condition); the chubby surgeon (who had probably more people on his conscience than I do); the married couple who suddenly returned home early when I expected them to be on vacation, and the guy who almost got away safely...
Fourth Course: Dessert
The other night I was going to climb up to a celery and carrot-filled residence on the first floor of an apartment building to prepare a meal for a lovely anorexic student, when I accidentally climbed into the wrong window. I was surprised by the pleasant aroma that filled the room into which I´d climbed. As I turned on the light to estimate the arrangement, I got surprised again finding immaculate tidiness and all the furniture arranged with subtle taste. After having spent a few minutes absorbing the presentation of perfect indoor harmony, I followed the spoor of the magnetic smell. I opened the door that was separating me from what turned out to be the kitchen. A young man was sitting at the round table which had a mirror of the same size and shape hanging over it, and was writing something into a pocketbook. He unwillingly ripped off his eyes from his notes when I closed the door behind me.
After rapidly covering the 15m distance from across the room, his eyes thunked onto mine, then sprinted down from my face to my arm, and rested on the beautiful metal pan I was holding. His look was not frightened, it was more apprising.
-“Hi” - I said - “I like what you are cooking there, may I taste?”
– “Help yourself.“ - he answered.
The crispy peace of meat was like a massage of my mouth. It was a peace of art, the most fantastic thing I´ve ever tried.
-“Are you a cook? What is this awesome delicacy?!” I asked, still being under its deep spell.
- “No, I´m a novelist, and what you´re eating is called Grivens – fried chicken skin in rendered duck-fat. It´s the healthiest thing in the world for you. I can tell you. And who are you by the way?”
- “Oh - I wish you hadn´t asked.” - I said, and explained to him who I was, finishing the story with my binding “(...) and now that I told you who I am, I have to kill you.”
- “ I see “ he said nodding slowly while putting his pad aside.
How odd he was. Other people were usually attacking me, trying to escape, they were begging me for mercy in torturous screams. But this writer, he blared all their shouts down with his silence. He was most articulate and most violent in it. I felt wounded, I wanted to do something, say something, anything just to bridge this most confusing moment of hush. So I asked him:
-”Aren´t you scared? Don´t you feel sorry for yourself?”
His strong eyes finally released me and pondered for a moment.
- ”No, I don`t. I feel sorry for you though…and for the book I won`t be able to complete any more. There are only three more chapters left. I would have been so happy to have written it to the end.”
His skull cracked especially silently when I hit it gently with my pan. His face expression looked much softer than that of my earlier victims. I kept staying beside his resting body for a long time. I was feeling nauseous. When I broke his skull, another dull crack echoed from somewhere in the depth of myself. I sensed the loss of something very significant without knowing exactly what it was. I felt as lonely in my life as he was in his death. There were tears in my heart before they became visible in my eyes. I could have cried the Mississippi River...cried over this strange man, cried over his unfinished novel, cried over the still existing endlessness of people with bad eating habits... .
Pay Your Bill Please
As I came back home I did not head immediately for my kitchen. That night was the first night in years I had spent strolling thoughtfully through the lifeless rooms of my house. The reality has acquired the quality of a dream. I had left him in his apartment, but he hasn´t left me. His words remained in my head when I was preparing my breakfast...and lunch...and dinner...and breakfast... . He felt sorry for me he had said. Not for himself, no, for me and for the book he could not finish.
We tend to give people more rank in death than in life. Their passed lives gain more mystery and complexity in retrospective. A human life consists of an indefinite number of opportunities. A lost opportunity can, if you´re lucky, sometimes be taken back, but dying means losing all your opportunities at once and never getting them back.
I have confiscated this writer´s life and now I had to carry the burden of his unfulfilled opportunity with me. The only way how I could disencumber from it, was to finish his unfinished book.
The Unfinished Book
I can`t help myself but think that maybe all of us are unfinished books. Some adventure stories, some heart-breaking love stories, short and long stories, comedies, tragedies, crinkly multi-lingual dictionaries, and so much more... .
Aren´t we all books of different times and genres scattered all over the same big bookshelf named “Planet Earth”? It`s very sad that nobody takes the time to actually read us until the very end.
Can anyone ever become a part of a different novel? An irreplaceable chapter of another person`s life? Saying yes entails that someone else could have started this chapter before you; that it is interspersed with foreign styles, languages, and concepts. How do you finish the book having only that little empty space left for yourself? How do you fit in without having to pull out some of your own pages, or destroying the entire story?
It might be useful to find a common goal... .
What was the goal of the young man whom I prevented from finishing his story? I began to search for some sort of meaning in somebody else´s long lost life. Ever since I have adopted this task, I have ceased cooking for other people, I have even stopped cooking for myself. I was all consumed by the fixed idea of filling my own senselessness with his dream. I became an inarticulate writer of another author´s book.
I adopted a lifestyle that could have been his: Every morning I read newspapers, then I listen to jazz music, do my shopping, and in the afternoon I take long walks into every night. It is the only way I know to give some fresh breath and rhythm to my lame inspiration.
It is also amazing to see upon myself how the routines of one´s life create the illusion of happiness and security. In my previous life, I would experience a sort of stability, but never happiness.
Yesterday I was surprised by a sudden storm, and took refuge back home. As I passed through my kitchen to scan quickly the nowadays so empty stomach of my refrigerator, I discovered a big salad bowl coquettishly glancing at me from the set kitchen table. It was beautiful: A gorgeous masterpiece bouquet of leaves and vegetables was flourishing in the desert of my kitchen.
As I continued my investigation, I discovered that the few sausages and fish conserves I had left, had disappeared from my house, even my ancient meat grinder was gone. It made sense, I could see my own handwriting in there, well, with the only exception that it wasn´t me and that my house had within a few hours become a fully vegan household.
I could have screamed from frustration if it wouldn´t have been so hysterically funny...so I begin to laugh... .
-”May I ask what is so funny to you?”
My laughing fit immediately falls silent and I turn my head in the direction of the quacky voice. A fluffy mustache is hanging crooked on a face as pale as my walls.
-”If people like you ate meat, they would have some color in their visages, and maybe your mustache would hang straight.” - I say.
-”If people like you wouldn´t have been so anthropodenial, Tyson Foods wouldn´t be mutilating 2,2 billion live chickens per year. Why do you need to eat meat every day?”
-”Because it tastes good.”
-”Because it tastes good I will have to kill you since there is no hope to change an egoist as you are.” - he said squeezing the grip of a kitchen knife with his skinny fingers.
-”I´m sorry, but you will have to come another time. I´m a writer, and I have to finish the last chapter of my book.” I hesitated and added “I´m also getting hungry already. You are welcome to join me. There is my famous beef steak from the pan for dinner... .”