Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author
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Edible Threads ©

Life is a journey, isn’t it?

As we grow and graduate to the next level of living life, as we try new ideas and evolve, and as we travel exploring cultures different from our own to expand awareness and tolerance, we experience more than one journey. There are several interwoven throughout our life times. The most tangible are the journey of the mind, of the spirit, of the emotions, of the physical body, of our talents and capabilities, and of our senses, perceptions, and palate, just to name a few.

Food: A Powerful Form of Communication

Food and eating consumes a substantial part of the weekly routine whether it is preparing our children's breakfast, feeding our pets, caring for a vegetable garden, sipping an herbal tisane, following a diet regimen, earning money so we can shop at the grocery store or farmers’ market, making reservations in a restaurant and meeting friends, hosting a dinner party, or choosing a specific knife and piece of cookware for preparing food for our meal.

Integral to that routine is our culinary heritage, a part of our foundation with food preferences and habits based on personal development influenced by the people and environment when we were growing up. We carry them with us, and apply them as we go from day-to-day. This foundation provides us with structure and perspective, then allows us to springboard into experimentation. Experimentation always provides an outcome, whether we choose to omit it or add it to strengthen our foundation as who we are. Our relationship with food, from the essence through the physical form, is incredibly complex for each plant, animal, and human.

I call these Edible Threads. Culinary experiences weaving their way throughout our life, never far from our core. Sometimes they remain constant like one of our mother’s dishes we will always love, sometimes those threads twist as we try a new version of that favored dish when traveling, while other times they stretch into something new we created.

In teaching culinary courses, I’ve learned much about the significance of food as valued by individuals, simply through observation and conversation. Seemingly simple, these threads were anything but simple, not to be ignored or cast aside. They spanned generations, spanned countries, and healed people in ways nothing else previously accomplished.

Examples: Some events occurred years ago while others are recent, but note how we remember well events connected with food. It is the power of food, often unspoken, but deeply felt.

Upon finishing the Pan di Spagna class, a young Italian-American woman hugged me for teaching the cake. Being a family favorite, the recipe was lost with the passing of her grandmother since she didn't write it down. Not knowing the name of the cake, and having searched for its equivalent, she was thrilled to be able to now share this dessert with her family. Then there was the American couple in Rome sharing their love of Chinese food. Every time they traveled to a new city in a new country, they ate in a Chinese restaurant if they could find one. Why? They said it reminded them of home, and made them feel comfortable. How they loved comparing those meals while traveling, still talking about past travels. Personalizing their trip through a love of food they shared made it more comfortable for them. When we feel comfortable, aren't we more open and receptive?

During our Walking Tour of Bologna, I teased participants when they looked longingly at decadent chocolate pastries and other goodies displayed in local store windows. As the instructor, I thought it helpful if they heard permission to indulge. “Now remember, part of being a good cook is sampling in order to learn the local palate. Just think of it as 'scientific research'." A few days later, one of the young men participating in the course, came flying down the stairs, a concentrated look on his face with barely a hint of a smile. He was a man on a mission. “Everything ok?” “Yes. Going to the gelateria, scientific research!” Since it was only 10: 30 in the morning, this was all day for research. Smart man. Later on, I learned he went from gelateria to gelateria sampling one flavor, vanilla. Smiling and confident, he was so happy!

Food: The Acceptance and Love of Self

One of my greatest memories cooking in the kitchen was with a woman who had contacted me annually but never registered for a course. Finally, after 3 years of correspondence, she registered for my Basics Course. In Bologna, she told me why it had taken so many years to actually arrive as a participant. She was an alcoholic, was in AA, and now was ready to cook again. Standing next to her in the kitchen she was to prepare our risotto. Upon viewing the recipe, which called for wine used to deglaze the pot, she said she couldn’t do it. I said, “Yes you can. It is just a bottle of wine for cooking, nothing more. I won’t leave you, I will stand by your side so let’s begin cooking.”

Staring directly into the pot unwavering, she slowly stirred the grains of rice coating them with butter as we advanced to the next step. The wine. “Ready?” After staring at the bottle, slowly her arm extended, a bit shaky. Suddenly, she gripped the bottle and poured the wine into the pot, deglazed, then put the bottle of wine down to applause from everyone in class! Through a tearful smile, she continued slowly coaxing the rice creating one of the creamiest porcini risotti we ever made in class. I wish you could have seen her glow with inner pride as we savored her very first dish made with wine since she joined AA. Throughout the years, she kept in touch with me and often sent publicity she received as a caterer, thriving with her newly found freedom.   

Surgeons make great dessert chefs. Four days into the cooking course, one of the women took me aside and said “thank you”. Thank you for what? This is what we always do in the course. She explained that her husband, a prominent surgeon, had said to her at the beginning of the course, “What are we doing here?” By the fourth day she said, “He now understands, and is beginning to appreciate how much effort it takes me to prepare the daily meals for him and the children.” By the final day of the cooking course, the surgeon was plating desserts. I can still see him in my memory, this prominent physician, bending over with his tiny “scalpel” of a curved garnish knife in hand, inspecting each tiny fruit, focused and calm. Putting his final touch on each dish, he personally carved designs out of fruit for everyone.

There are so many types of threads, in so many forms, appearing at unusual times. With cooking, we honor tradition, exalt creativity, bring pleasure and sometimes a little guilt along with it, experience triumph, and increase understanding. So this website offers opportunities to interweave more Edible Threads into your life. May it bring joy.

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