Favorite food philosophy

People ask me all the time.

“What do you like to cook?” “What is your favorite meal?”

They ask me, I presume, because it’s part of my identity. I commonly spend what little extra time I have learning about food—reading in a subscription, eating at a funky place, asking others of their histories. I am “passionate” about it. I’m obsessive over it.

I worked with Mike, an architect, this past summer. And during my working I found him to be quite accomplished in his field. Though perhaps you don’t need one to have the other, he is passionate about architecture. He obsesses over it.

I know very little about architecture. In the early days of working for Mike I found myself frustrated. He hadn’t answered, or even tried to answer, my only question to him concerning his field.

“What’s your favorite style of architecture—apart from location or from context? What would you design if you had complete control?”

He sloughed off the question with a casual “That’s impossible.” He didn’t make the slightest effort to answer. How hard could it be for this old guy who had studied this art for 30 years to answer my simple question of preference?

When someone asks me what I like to cook or what is my favorite meal, I rattle off some types: “French Bistro food” or “Southwestern US food.” But what I really want are some parameters. I find that I can’t respond in a way that people care to hear unless I have them.

Mike’s designs fit into a landscape. They are functional. They are affordable, if necessary. They stick to classical proportions. They are thoughtful. Asking him to answer my question was to rob him of his greatest assets. It was to assume that architecture could even exist apart from its setting.

The most important thing that surrounds food and cooking are the people. And people carry with them every kind of constraint. I would be better at answering the question, “What is your favorite winter, vegetarian dish?” At which point I would hardly have to hesitate before diving into a discourse about the baked butternut squash with sage and cream that I shared with a few very good friends the other night. ( )

I hope I don’t have the audacity and the abounding ignorance to say that I am an “architect of cuisine” or have anything like 30 years’ experience (nor its equivalent of outcome). I have only recently begun to understand the importance of setting in dealing with food. The aforementioned squash dish answers all the questions that winter and the vegetarian pose. Its filling of a specified need and circumstance elevate it well beyond the concern of preference. I like food that is appropriate. I like food that fits. That is what I like to cook. That is my favorite meal.