Childhood memories are the source of inspiration of many a chef. Some chefs can be at their most creative when they recreate dishes out of their childhood memories or the flavours that they remember from when they were young.
Memories and storytelling are what makes us human beings. We are the stories that we tell ourselves and others and our memories have a way of stirring our emotions and connecting us to our history and to where we come from.
Recalling our earliest childhood memories is not always easy. How often are our memories real and how often are they the stories that we have been told by our families and friends.
This is particularly true for our earliest childhood memories. What is your first memory? And are you sure it is your memory or is it a story that you have been told?
An old photo may trigger a memory, or else it may trigger the memory of your mother or father explaining the context to you.
I recall my mother say that whenever she used to try and give me cheese, I would push her hand and the cheese away. As I grew up, I developed a phobia of cheese (which I have now overcome). Can I remember pushing her hand? I have a vague memory but can I be sure it is not what I have been told?
Then there is nostalgia and tradition which has a knack of playing tricks with our memories. Have you ever thought about that particular food that you craved for when you were young, only to be disappointed when you revisited it again.
Palates of course change and so does our knowledge.
This is a new series on Food and Wine Gazette. We want to go back and rediscover childhood memories, uncover stories which are hidden below the surface. We also want to look at how childhood memories influence chefs and their cuisine. We want to remember and rediscover personal episodes and flavours from the past and also look at how many of today’s contemporary chefs are working to create emotions for their clients by recreating childhood memories in terms of taste, flavours and experience.
The series will mix personal reflections with reflections from personalities who we have met along the way and who use childhood memories in their work.
Memories of food are clearly very powerful. George Bernard Shaw used to say “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.”
So when did I develop this interest in food? And how did it come about? Why had I never ventured into a kitchen before the age of 22? What are the dishes that mark my childhood and how have these influenced my palate and the way I approach food. And are these memories relevant when I am now living in a different country?
Maybe one of the most starking memories I have is the story of the tomato. Growing in the Mediterranean island of Malta, I tended to take the taste of the tomato for granted. There are of course many stories related to the tomato but nothing made me appreciate the tomato more than being deprived of it living in another country. So you can imagine the disappointment when I went back home only to discover that the tomato I had so craved was no longer what I remembered.
The dishes of our childhood stay with us forever even though they may disappoint us at some point. The story of Kobe Desramaults, a famous Belgian chef clearly comes to mind. He recalled how he used to remember this spaghetti with bolognese sauce (called spagetti bolo in Belgium) at a certain restaurant close to his home. He went back there with a friend only to realise that it was not as good as his memory had recalled. He had been deceived by nostalgia.
Do you have a childhood memory you want us to write about? Is there a flavour that you remember from your past which you would like to revisit? Contact us or leave a comment.
Stay tuned for this series as we explore the past and take a look at how the past reconnects us to the future.