Cooking School in Tuscany
I was kneading pasta dough at Giuliano Bugialli’s* cooking school in Tuscany, when he came up to me and commanded me to “Cook with LOVE, cook with LOVE!” He took the dough from my hands and lovingly kneaded it. He was almost dancing with it; pushing on it gently, turning it 90 degrees, folding the dough, and pushing the mass gently forward with the palms of his hands. In seconds, it had become a silky, baby-bottom-smooth, ball of dough. I could just feel him infusing his heart into the food.
It was my turn and I tried to mimic his actions. I pushed on the dough and struggled to fold it over onto itself. “No! Do it like this!” Giuliano said, taking the dough and showing me again. I was determined to learn how to make “love” to pasta dough, but sadly the magical week of cooking school ended and my goal was not achieved. I just didn’t “get it.” Cook with LOVE? What does that even mean?
I came back to Dallas and immediately started cooking from Bugialli’s cookbooks: The Fine Art of Italian Cooking and Bugialli Italy (I recommend them both!) — O)ne of my favorite recipes is Potato Gnocchi with Ligurian Pesto and Tomatoes (I recently adapted it for Garden of Eydie and you won’t even miss the salt or oil with this satisfying, party-worthy recipe). I kept making his brilliant recipes and was trying my hardest to figure out how to cook with love, but it remained an elusive goal (for the time being). I so wanted to be a wonderful cook, but I knew I needed to learn this very important element in making my food have real “soul.”
French Culinary Institute
I was very busy in my radio career and cooking was not at the top of my list until fourteen years later, when I decided to take a hiatus from radio to attend The French Culinary Institute, now called International Culinary Center, in NYC. I really wanted to be a great cook and thought that if I took a professional culinary course to learn the all-important techniques, I would find the secret to success.
Whoa, what a ride! And what a surprise! Culinary school was grueling. I thought it was going to be all fun, creative, and romantic, but this was hard work. It is essentially a cooking boot camp! Read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and you’ll understand what I mean. These chef/teachers are demanding, to say the least. There are four “modules” — starting with knife skills and food safety and culminating with the nerve-wracking experience of being a “line cook” for the school’s restaurant. We had several weekly tests during the eight-month program and had to memorize all of the recipes. You know what is really interesting? The students were divided into five groups of three and were given the same recipe with the exact same ingredients. Each group would make the recipe, as a team, and then they were graded on the results. Amazingly, all of the five dishes tasted different! Maybe the difference was cooking with love? Regardless, there was always a very clear winning dish. How could this be? Over time, I learned that we are all unique in our approach, even if we follow a recipe exactly as it is written (I will be teaching “how to follow recipes” in the future). It truly is up to each individual to make a recipe work.
A few key takeaways from my time at FCI that I continue to practice today:
- Food Danger Zone – Food temperature must stay below 40° or above 140°, which means that food should not stay out at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Read a recipe all the way through prior to making it. Make sure to “cook it and taste it” in your mind beforehand, as well.
- Start with the right ingredients – Make sure all of your fresh produce is just that — fresh and at the peak of the season. Also make sure your dry ingredients are fresh and not past the “use by” date. Using the best ingredients ensures the greatest chance that the final results will be delicious.
- Mise en Place (everything in its place) is very important. Measure out all the ingredients before you start to cook.
- Taste, taste, taste all throughout the cooking process, so the food develops nicely – does the food need more depth, longer cooking, more spice, etc.? You’ll know what to do before it’s too late.
- Plating – We eat with our eyes first! Make your dish look beautiful. Wipe messy sauces from around the rim of the plate for a very clean presentation.
- Never Apologize – Even though a mistake might have been made, don’t tell your guests. We become our own worst critic and they probably won’t even notice! Shhhhh
Even after all that training, practicing, and graduating with A+ grades, I still was not confident in the kitchen. In fact, cooking with love was never even mentioned! But culinary school did ignite my passion for learning; I aspired to practice more and figure it out.
Cooking With LOVE!
Many years and dozens of annual events for family and friends transpired, and that meant a lot of cooking. I was getting really comfortable in the kitchen and realized that I could make anything taste good, as long as I tasted throughout the cooking process and made adjustments when necessary. I used to be so nervous before every event, but a calm was beginning to come over me. I had become efficient at being organized and proficient at creating menus. Cooking was actually fun and I felt at ease with entertaining. My cooking with love epiphany was finally about to happen.
I remember hosting a large birthday dinner party for my Ed and decided to cook many of his favorite dishes. The menu:
- Oak Smoked shrimp with Cocktail Sauce
- Seafood Tower
- Anti-pasta Platter
- Pear & Arugula Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette
- Hickory Grilled Beef Tender
- Popovers with Gruyere Cheese
- Hasselback Potatoes
- Roasted Rosemary Asparagus
- Eydie’s Gianduja Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Pecans
- Blueberry Streusel Tart
- Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream (Ed loved Haagen-Dazs Cinnamon Ice Cream, but they stopped making it fifteen years ago! So, he challenged me to make it and after several attempts, I finally reached “Test-Ed” approval. He said it is better than Haagen-Dazs!)
I cooked for days before the party, set the table with masculine colored flowers, and prepared as much as I could before the big day.
I wanted to be able to spend time with our guests, which takes quite a bit of forethought. Just before we (the bartender, server, housekeeper, and myself) served the main entrée, I gathered everyone together in the kitchen, held hands, and said a prayer: “Dear God, please help this food be delicious for our guests!” I crossed my fingers, made a squinchy “please?!” face, and watched everyone laugh. They had never seen a hostess pray for a successful meal before. All of our friends raved about each dish and my heart sang; emails of praise ensued. Ed was so proud! I realized that the entire meal was cooked with love and that making special meals became a delivery system for the love you feel for people! Woohoo! Yippee! Let’s do a little dance! I GOT IT!
Here’s the recipe for Cooking with Love:
- Choose dishes that you and your guests will love (I always asks our guests what their favorite meals are, and what allergies or foods they don’t like).
- Plan the menu accordingly – It can be a challenge to work around people’s preferences/diet of the day/limitations, but take it on as an opportunity to show how much you care about them. They will be so grateful and appreciative – yet another way to cook with love.
- Ambiance – Put energy into the table setting, flowers, and lighting and make sure that your home is clean and sparkling. It’s a great way to show your friends how much you love them – this will enhance the experience, and bring joy to everyone attending.
- Shopping for the ingredients – You are going to be nurturing the health of your guests, so make sure to buy the freshest, most high-quality organic foods. You’ll feel good to be playing your part in health and wellness and the food will be more delicious.
- Preparing the food – Take a moment to visualize the beauty of what you’re about to serve. Take your time – no rushing! This is a personal space, where you are creating something flavorful and nourishing. Pay special attention while cooking; gently stirring, tasting, and seasoning to your liking. If you like it, they will like it. Reduce your sauces to that perfect moment of delectability. BE with the food!
- Serving – Cold plates for cold salads; warm plates for warm food; arrange food beautifully and artfully to wow your honorees.
- Welcoming message – Take time to thank everyone for coming to your home. Let them know how special they are to you and what you’ve prepared for them.
Learning about cooking is a lifetime pursuit; one never knows it all and that is part of what I love about it. It took some time, but I finally felt like I had a solid grasp on cooking with love. I started spending more time focusing on other pursuits: yoga, meditation, and…BRAIN TRAINING! But what did brain training have to do with my journey to cooking with love? Everything!
On a very chilly week in January 2016, I attended “brain training camp” at Biocybernaut in Victoria, BC Canada. I learned about it from Kimberly Snyder’s podcast – a way to train your brain to get into the “Alpha state” where creativity abounds. The training promises to help with anti-aging (that had me at “hello!”), increase creativity by 50%, increase IQ, provide better focus, and increase joy. Other benefits include helping with anxiety, fear, and depression. I don’t really know why, but I felt compelled to do this. While it would be nice to increase creativity and IQ, and become a “peak performer,” I wasn’t working and I certainly was not training to be an all-star athlete. I didn’t have depression or anxiety, either. There wasn’t a real need and this place was expensive, but I felt this outside force pushing me to just do it. My generous and loving Ed said, “go for it”! Wait a minute…cause for pause… maybe Ed thought I needed it…hmmmm.
There were three of us attending the training and I had my own trainer. Her name is Linda Coldeway and she was spectacular. While we sat in a chamber and meditated, scientists hooked up our brains to a biofeedback machine to calculate which state our brains were in. There was a computer screen in front of us signaling what was happening with our brain. I came to understand that these first three days of “meditating” were set up to train our brains to get into the Alpha state. We could tell that we achieved this state when we heard a loud cacophony of sounds playing in our headphones. If it was quiet, we were in the Beta (or thinking) state. We wanted that loud noise in the “non-thinking” Alpha state, where ideas come out of nowhere.
Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Getting out of Beta (where all of our problems are created) is the goal. Once we get into the Alpha state, the brain opens up to new information and solutions to problems become apparent. The next four days were all about going into the chamber and concentrating on forgiving every person who had ever hurt or upset us. This was life-changing for me! Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves; when we forgive others, we lighten the load we have in our hearts (more on forgiveness in future posts – there’s a real technique to it and it should not be taken lightly). I even forgave people who I had forgotten hurt me. These “hurts” stay in our subconscious and affect how we think, stunting our ability to live a happy, fulfilling, angst-free life. We must get the pain out of our system completely.
Biocybernaut truly set me free and I didn’t even realize I was “imprisoned.” But I was.
As the days, weeks, and months passed, there was a noticeable shift happening. I was so happy – I couldn’t wait to wake up and carpe diem! I felt giddy and I had love for everyone. There was a force field of love around me that no one could dissipate. It has been over three years, and with regular meditation, it’s still working. My brain has been rewired to fire off happier, more “can do” rather than “can’t do” signals (more on meditation in a future article).
This article encompasses all three of the pillars of Garden of Eydie: Eating delicious, healthy food, filled with love, having love and compassion for yourself and others by cooking with love, and having the right attitude (so the mind can get out of the way)! The brain training freed my mind from the past, making way for everything the future had to offer, and I share all of this love and gratitude through…FOOD!
Giuliano wasn’t just teaching me to cook with love, he was teaching me how to live life with love! I hope this piece inspires you to do the same.
Let’s Help Each Other
Please share how you cook and live with love in the comments below. Have you forgiven someone and realized how good it made you feel? Please tell us. What are your tips in “honoring” your guests?
*Giuliano Bugialli has been one of the most popular Italian cooking teachers in the United States. He had cooking schools in NYC and Florence (where I studied with the master!) He is an internationally acclaimed chef and one of the most important ambassadors of Italian cuisine in the world. He is responsible for creating the dish, Tiramisu! Above all, he is a warm, brilliant, and caring person, teaching with LOVE, and a huge amount of passion.