I was watching the February 22, 2018 episode of Top Chef, where the four remaining competitors get a surprise visitor from home! For a couple of the chef contestants it’s their moms, for one it’s his grandmother and for the fourth it’s his dad.
The best part is that the visiting family member had each cooked a “dish from home” and everyone gets to sit down and break bread together. Little do the contestants know that their next cooking challenge is to recreate an elevated version of their family dish! One mom cooked gumbo, the grandmother made rigatoni with meat balls, another mom made beef stroganoff. My favorite dish hands down was cooked by the only dad that came. He cooked pigs feet, neck bones in gravy (red sauce) with lasagna! Oh, by the way, forgot to tell you, the dad and son are Italian! Talk about soul food recipes from around the world!
The son, Joe, said lasagna and pigs feet gravy will always remind him of his mom! For holidays and special occasions, it was always on the table. Joe said it would be hard (emotionally) to recreate the dish because his mom had passed away, seven years earlier from cancer. He hesitated to cook the dish because he didn’t want to fail and dishonor the memory of his mother. It was a very emotional show!
The more I expose myself to other cultures and what they eat, the more I understand that every culture has their own version of soul food! It may be called a different name – peasant food, country food, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. No matter what it’s called, it’s still the food that cultures were and still are built upon! The food our childhood food memories are made of! It’s food that when you eat it, you can taste the love and care that went into it’s preparation!
As many times as I’ve eaten pigs feet and neck bones, I have never had them cooked in red gravy and served with a side of lasagna! I guess like they say, we are more alike than we are different! We all have food that we love to cook and share with family, friends and loved ones, making memories that we cherish and pass on!
I feel that this Top Chef episode resonates with the real idea behind my recipe blog, Sweet Mother’s Kitchen. I have always intended it to be a place to share our heritage, culture, stories, photos and recipes! My blog’s tagline is… Cook. Share. Remember. , which now should be self explanatory. What may not be quite as obvious is my Logo, but it is also a part of the same idea. My logo is a Sankofa, a mythical bird from West African folklore. The origin of the lore hails from the Akan tribe of Ghana, West Africa.
The meaning of the word Sankofa is
FA (look, seek and take)
and the literal translation of the word and symbol is, “it is not wrong to return and go get the good thing in danger of being left behind”*.
The Sankofa is depicted as a large bird with it’s body facing and/or flying forward, with it’s head turned backward. It holds an egg in it’s mouth that it is lovingly placing on it’s back in preparation of the trip into the future! The egg represents the good thing it went back and got that it’s taking with it – heritage, values and memories!
I used the Sankofa bird meaning for my logo for my soul food recipe web site. My Sankofa is flying forward into the future and taking all of it’s culture, recipes and memories in the form of a heart with it. Oh, and my Sankofa has a chef’s hat on! 🙂
We must never forget where we’ve come from and we should in fact celebrate it. Food that caused our forefathers to thrive and survive shouldn’t embarrass us or cause us to feel ashamed! You should be proud that not only did that food feed generations of people, nourishing and keeping them alive, it also gave them comfort when they needed it the most!
Like the Sankofa we must learn from our past but we must also not be afraid to take the good part of it with us into our future! Like the adage says, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re coming from! It seems that the same people who encourage you to shun your past and your heritage are the same ones you’ll find serving it back up to you like they invented it! (Things that make you go, hummm???)
To be memorable, food must be more than fuel. To be memorable, food must connect you to something – a person, a place, a thought, an event! Soul food, southern food, country food, comfort food, Italian food, Polish food, Jamaican food, African food, Cuban food, Irish food, German food, French food – whatever the culinary heritage, it has to have soul!
The old school recipes that Grandma used to make. The special dish that only your family knows how to make that is proudly served at every special event! Granddad’s special soup, Aunt Bea’s homemade rolls, food that’s as much a part of who you are as where you were born and raised! Don’t lose your food culture, go back and get it, treasure it and keep it with you! Remember it, recreate it and share it with people you love! It’s what makes you who you are!