by Lesia Kohut
Several weeks ago, in preparation for this blog post, I posed the question “How do food and love connect for you?” Here are some of the answers I got:
Food is love.
Food is a vehicle for love.
Food makes us strong and healthy, so we should love it.
I love nachos!
There were many more, but overall, it was quite obvious that no matter what the answer, food and love have a strong connection for most people.
My sister and I grew up in a home where both of our parents were gourmands and very good cooks. They believed in eating healthy and delicious food, so our kitchen was filled with whole grain cereals, pastas and rice; lots of vegetables and fruit; dairy and eggs; some fish and meat; and, loads of cookbooks. We rarely had sweets or junk food in the house, and often my sister and I felt deprived of the tantalizing, colourful and forbidden sweet, salty and sometimes fried snacks many of our friends used to eat on a regular basis. One of my mom’s uncles used to sneak tiny Coffee Crisps into our pockets after church on Sundays, but aside from that, I don’t remember eating much commercial junk food until I became a young adult.
My parents also ensured we learned about and enjoyed foods from different cultures (India, China, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Greece, Austria, France and Switzerland to name a few). They also wanted us to know how to behave well in public, so we got dressed up, and went out to dinner once a month. Some of my most vivid and favourite memories are of special meals at restaurants where part of the amazing experience was the love of food served and shared.
Thanks to my parents, food was nourishing, sustaining, exciting, and once a month, was the reason for an outing to a restaurant, and a vehicle for lessons in etiquette.
My mother’s side of the family also had very strong ties to food. My grandparents had a massive garden (back then, everyone in my family grew their own food) which yielded a myriad of vegetables and fruit ending up in soups, stews, preserves, dumpling fillings, and even cake! My grandparents also owned “Astoria”, and my great aunt owned “Rony’s” – both well-loved diners in downtown Edmonton from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
I have fond memories of “Astoria”. I remember helping my dido (grandfather) ring up customers’ bills on the old button-style cash register, and walking through the tiny, steaming kitchen while burgers sizzled on the griddle, fries sputtered in the fryers, and varennyky (more commonly know as perogies) boiled away in massive stock pots on the stove, eventually being slathered in a delicious combination of butter and sautéed onions.
I remember chocolate milkshakes being made at the front counter, with one regular customer always asking for a raw egg to be added to his to make it extra smooth and creamy. But most of all, I remember marvelling at the number of people (mostly lawyers, police officers and judges, since “Astoria” was right next to the downtown court house) coming to eat at the diner each and every day, because they loved the food and they loved my grandparents.
My mom also had three cousins (Lialia, Marta, and Zonia) who were all confectionery wizards. They all knew how to bake better than anyone I can remember, and they always found time to make everything from scratch. Their baking made people happy, there was always something to learn and share, and it was something they all loved to do.
To this day, I am still blown away by the huge repertoire my baba (grandmother) and each of my aunts had in their respective confectionery arsenals, and at the various talents (cake decorating, sculpting, quantity production) that were brought to light during each family celebration – all without ever having taken a lesson. I still love telling people my baba had a stand-up freezer in her bedroom that was always filled with fully prepared tortes, cookies, pastries and pampushky, “…should someone happen to come by for coffee….”
With all of the above, it seemed only natural I should realize (at the tender age of 30), I wanted to, and could make food for a living. Growing up in a family where there was such a love of food on so many levels, how could I not end up baking for a living? I too was good at it, my baking made people happy, I was excited by what I could learn and share, and it was something I loved to do.
Everything I learned about food from my parents, my grandparents and my mom’s cousins has all been inspiration for how I cook, bake and eat today – as an individual, a mom and wife, and as the owner of LPK’s Culinary Groove. It’s important to me now, more than ever, to have a love and respect for food in order to keep my family healthy, keep building our community, and to make our world a better place through awareness of who and where our food comes from.
So what does love have to do with food for me? How do the two connect?
In the end, you may love nachos, believe food makes us strong and healthy so we should love it, or that food is a vehicle for love. When it all gets pared down though, I believe food is love; my parents taught us this, and my baba and aunts embodied this through their cooking and baking. After all, love, like food, is nourishing, sustaining, can be exciting, and (especially for the mother of an 8 year old) can still be a vehicle for lessons in etiquette.