Sophia Loren once said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
With credentials like hers, I figure, how wrong could she be?
So last month I signed up for a short course in Italian cooking at the celebrated Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill on Cape Cod.
In chatting with the other students, I discovered that there is general agreement that “cooking for one” is not one of life’s pleasures.
I found myself odd man out for two reasons. First, in two of the three classes, I was the sole male student. Second, I like cooking, whether for others or for just one. Few things focus my mind as much as cooking—and crowd out the cares of the day.
The preparation of food demands total concentration—mental and tactile—in making accurate measurements, gauging the feel of dough as you knead it, monitoring the temperature of skillets and saucepans and ovens.
More than a half-century after Julia Child introduced French cuisine to the American household, television networks have discovered that food shows can be popular and profitable. But food channels often feature snarling celebrity chefs far removed from the elegant and gracious Julia. Television also has turned the art of cooking into ridiculous competitions, just as almost every other art form I can think of has been made competitive, from dance to poetry.
But cooking for yourself, in the quiet of your kitchen, follows the Zen precept of looking after yourself and the space you occupy. At the Zen Garden spiritual center in Airmont, N.Y., for example, students are taught to practice mindfulness in all their activities. Says the center’s spiritual director:
Zen is the realization that the sacred is in each and every moment of life—in the most ordinary actions like eating, sleeping, even sweeping the floors.
But Zen thought seems to place more attention on the eating than the preparation. Devoted Zen practitioners eat food that’s as close as possible to its natural state—requiring little if any cooking or other preparation. Buddhist monks go out in the streets each morning carrying empty dishes that adherents fill with food offerings.
Chef Michael shows how to make fresh pasta—by hand.
My Castle Hill classes were taught by Chef Michael Ceraldi, who’s worked with influential chefs in Italian cuisine in New York and in Italy. He came to Cape Cod in 2010 as executive chef of Dalla Cucina ("Best Italian” 2011 in Yankee magazine). In 2013 he opened a Provincetown pop-up that finished the season as Trip Advisor’s top-rated Cape restaurant. Last year he opened Ceraldi’s at Wellfleet harbor. His restaurant opens for the 2015 season in mid-May, with a multi-course tasting menu that changes each evening.
My classes with Chef Michael began with making fresh pasta, ravioli and tomato sauce. Then came potato gnocchi and a spinach-ricotta version known as malfatti. We ended the course making risotto and the risotto-and-mozzarella-filled croquettes called arancini, which the students in the earlier photo are shaping.
All this was a far cry from my days of producing corporate events during which we always had to serve “safe” fare that could be prepared en masse—meaning menu items that appealed to a diverse group of men and women sometimes numbering close to a thousand.
I’m in Vieques for this month, tending to things at my house here. So with my wife far north on Cape Cod, I’m enjoying cooking for one. What’s best—nobody else is here to count how many arancini I stuff into my mouth.
In my next blog, “Why, Women?”
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