Prior to Ruben, cooking was an act of survival. It was methodical; like clockwork. We planned meals on Saturday, shopped on Sunday, and prepared every meal with nothing more than a spare thought that was sooner lost in steam than in memory. The spices and scents only signified rawness and readiness. The servings and plates only marked another day lived.

Then Ruben came. And with him came the realization that cooking is an act of intimacy and vulnerability. Cooking was no longer only an act of survival; it was an act of creation. Every pinch of salt, every grain of rice, every garlic clove, every skillet, spoon, and stir, had a purpose and a meaning. They spoke of my lessons as a young girl who was entrusted with the secrets of the women in my family. The recipes and stories had the same origins but our hands – my ancestors’ and mine – gave them our unique interpretations.

The recipes I learned didn’t use measuring cups and spoons, they used intuition and inspiration. The size of my palm determined the size of the pinch of salt that was sprinkled into the pot. My eyes, nose, and tongue determined the colors, heat, and spices of every dish and beverage I made. The warmth of my palms always kneaded the dough with just a tad too much heat. You cook it before it reaches the fire my mother always said.

Although I learned my lessons in the kitchen with the adeptness of a curious 12 year old girl who later perfected them as a young woman, it wasn’t until Ruben sat at our table that I realized the power I held every time I interpreted one of the many unwritten recipes.

What made that first dinner with Ruben so significant was the fact that I, and not my mother, had prepared the meal. I wove the intricate ancestral meals into a fine tapestry of dishes and flavors. I had chosen how to represent my daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers. Because of this, I felt exposed and vulnerable. Without uttering a word I had shown him who I was and what my legacy would be. I had shown him how I perceive the world in terms of flavors, textures, and scents. I had given him a piece of myself that even I would never experience because I had known myself longer than I could recall.

In return for my unabashed vulnerability Ruben gave me the most important lesson in the kitchen: Cooking is not an act of survival. Cooking is an act of creation and intimacy. It is openness and guilelessness. It is everything that we try to hide but can’t because our intuition reigns supreme when our cooking is not limited by measurements and numbers. Cooking is an act of love.

“Cooking” by Azul Serena


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