Friday, April 18, 2008
I get my game birds from Hill Top Pheasant Farm just north of Elk Rapids. The other day as I sat in the dish room plucking the feathers off of the quails I am serving currently I started thinking about the importance of having respect for the food we serve. Plucking birds makes for great Zen moments because it can be so tedious. I think the Buddhists and Taoists have it right when they talk about the inter-connection of off all things. In cooking we get to see this inter-connection everyday if we look close enough. The kitchen is a violent place. In it's space things die daily and often with out thought from the one doing the killing. Take these quails for instance. When I need more I call the farm and let him know I'm on my way out. When I get there I follow the farmer over to the quail pen and stand there as he picks out and then beheads the little guys. A violent act no matter how one frames it. Now there are a couple ways to look at this. It's just a bird, who cares. Or, it's a living thing giving it's life, involuntarily, for our pleasure. Few things piss me off more than seeing cooks taunt something before they cook it. That 'thing' may be a lobster awaiting the boiling pot. It may be that quail I just bought or it may be anything else. Thomas Keller once wrote that all cooks should have to kill their food at least once so as to understand the importance of the moment. I think he's right. Sure, we're on top of the food chain but that doesn't give us the right to show any disrespect for that which is below us. I hope diners also learn the importance of showing respect for the food they eat. What ever is on the plate before them died for them. Great cooking requires great respect for the product. When a cook understands that, she/he takes greater precautions to cook it correctly. How tragic to over cook something and make it useless because of a lack of respect. Those quail, and in the fall it will be pheasant and chukker, and I are connected. We share the same space. Their lives make my life possible and in turn I have no option but to prepare them in the best possible way I can so as to give their deaths meaning. The Buddhist have a prayer that says, "This food is the gift of the whole universe, Each morsel is a sacrifice of life, May I be worthy to receive it." Amen to that and I would add, May I be worthy to prepare it.