Final thoughts on History and Culture
It’s the last week of classes, the term is almost over! That means I will have been here six months already! I’m starting to take toll of all my physical ailments:
sore back (check)
numbness and tingling in fingers (check)
open blisters (check)
However, I have to say I LOVE the decision I’ve made to come here. I definitely feel like I have a place in this industry, and can’t wait to start my internship on October 1 at Stowe Mountain Lodge. It’s a pretty fancy place, and I hope to learn a lot of new ingredients, and more about serving local, seasonal cuisine. I’m starting right during leaf season here in Vermont, so we’ll be hella busy!!!!
For my history and culture class, I had to write up a final paper, kind of a summary of what I learned in the class. For your enjoyment, here it is!
“Why is history and culture important to your perception of about food and cuisine?” that brings together all of the class lessons and homework. Please draw upon anything covered in class as well as additional outside work and family and personal experiences.
As culinary professionals, we draw upon the knowledge and experience of our teachers, mentors, families, and written and oral histories. To be the best in our field, it is important to learn as much as we can about the history and culture of our food, dishes, cooking methods, cooking equipment, regional and local differences and variations, as well as cultural, dietary, and religious preferences.
So first, we look to the past to learn about what our ancestors ate. With the limited resources available, the hunter and gatherer societies probably struggled to get enough food for every day subsistence. Although we generally think mostly of hunters and the game they were able to kill, daily food needs were fulfilled by gathering roots, nuts, berries, and other ingredients growing wild in their immediate environment. As a result, they were nomadic, constantly in search of better areas.
Once peoples had started growing and cultivating grain, they were able to settle into a certain area and focus specifically on that. For example, if wheat was the main grain, we can expect the people to use wheat and wheat flour in almost every meal. There was probably a basic bread, and also a fermented version, meaning beer. After this, there is more and more varied cultivation, and the beginnings of trade of various goods.
For me, this is where it begins to get interesting. I had never heard of the Columbian Exchange, and was surprised to find how many ingredients were exchanged across the Atlantic. I knew about the potato, but not about the corn, tomato, and peppers that are now so important in Old World cuisine. It’s amazing that staple ingredients are now cultivated on continents where they didn’t originate. For me, the tomato is the staple of Italian food, and to know that it has only recently been incorporated into Italian cuisine is amazing.
As the French were the first to organize themselves professionally, we have many written records of cooking methods, ingredients, and recipes of their cuisine. By keeping track, they were able to improve and refine on previous versions of dishes and recipes. Also, French techniques are now the foundation of the culinary education. Even if you end up cooking non-European food, many of the techniques are transferable. In terms of flavoring and ingredients, by knowing the history and culture of food, you can combine technique with spices and food of the region and come up with something “Mexican” or “Middle Eastern”.
I came to NECI with some experience in the home kitchen, having learned many basic skills from my grandmother and my father. My heritage is German and Italian American, so I know a bit about these cuisines, and they of course mean a lot to me. When I cook, I am always thinking of my family, and of course my heritage is a source of pride for me.
The most important thing I’ve learned in this class is that everything we do today in the culinary world is based on what came before; we cannot neglect to look back as we consider our daily work in the kitchen. The most important thing I’ve learned at NECI is to show up every day and do my best. The most important thing I’ve learning from my family is that cooking with love makes all the difference. When you combine these three components, you can be the best in your field.