On the cusp of the week when the world stopped, we hosted some chefs, and a couple of food enthusiasts for a pot luck meal, and chit chat. One of the chefs I had previously met, and had gone into rhapsodies over the Indian meal she had cooked. The other chef came with serious food chops, and a huge fan following for her sock-you-in-the-face flavors executed with finesse.
The night before our pot luck, I had cooked Jamaican jerk chicken, marinated in a jar of sauce that I was told was as authentic as it could get. The result was delicious, even though it probably took off a layer of skin from the roof my mouth with its incinerating heat. It was however, not the usual marinade that my husband had been expecting, so he opted for something else - leaving me with a large quantity of leftovers.
Of course I wanted to impress our guests the next day - how could I not? The bar had been set very high, and so I did the two things I normally do when stressed - I procrastinated, and I worked myself up into a frenzy. An hour and a half before our guests were expected, I had a set dining table, the house was clean-ish, and I still had no idea what I was serving. Standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open yielded nothing but jerk chicken leftovers, a sad bundle of cilantro, and a couple dozen eggs. This next part makes me cringe, but bear with me. I washed the marinade off the cooked chicken, charred some ginger, tied a bundle of cilantro stems together, and made congee. With water, not chicken stock. At the very end, with chopped up chicken thrown into the pot, and topped with jammy eggs, crisp garlic chips and ginger matchsticks, sautéed spinach and mushrooms, then finished with fragrant and nutty sesame oil, I set that congee on the table without even having tried a bite for seasoning.
There it sat, on a table groaning with some of the finest pork I've ever eaten, my first taste of esquite rice, a richly aromatic keema and hot buttered pavs, a delicious kohlrabi soup, and more. Finally, having relaxed, I confessed about the imposter congee.
As luck would have it, the congee worked. Somehow, the spice of Scotch bonnets was tempered by the creaminess of broken down grains of jasmine rice, the acidity from the citrus in the jerk marinade absorbed and yet lingering. It was comfort at its finest, and the company in which it was consumed couldn't have mirrored it better. A farmer's daughter from Boston, a soft-spoken Indian who speaks loudly with the flavors in her cooking, a voluble Brazilian who had cooked some incredible Puerto Rican pork, and me. We sat around that table and ate, and talked and then ate some more. About the unfamiliar landscape whose devastating consequences we were yet to discover. About our roots, and where we chose to transplant them. About food, and how we were going to help get it to people who were sure to need it in the upcoming weeks.
And I will reiterate what I say time and again - food people are the best people. In kitchens both professional and at home, with high-profile chefs who are just as vulnerable as you and me, whether they are providing meals for a thousand people or sharing hard-to-find ingredients with the community, food people show up, time and again. So when they talk, I urge you to listen. They know what's coming before you do. They feared for their staff and the interruption in supply chains before the thought occurred to any journalist. They've been caring for, and feeding people quietly, and sometimes loudly, so you will listen while enjoying your uninterrupted income. When they petition to save restaurants, join them. They are talking about saving farmers, and delivery drivers and commissioned salespeople, not just their own dining rooms. Step out of your boxes, and do something that is not comfortable, to make life possible for someone else. Who knows, you might even like it, being part of the bigger picture. Just like you would enjoy some Jamaican congee, as out of the box as it was. Heck call me, and I'll even make you some. Because nobody shares like food people do.
Wife, mother, baker, jam maker, hug dispenser, reader.