Who doesn’t enjoy food? Who doesn’t want to try something to tickle his pallet anew? Who wouldn’t want to embark on a different experience of a common dish mixed in a magically distinct way? These and many other intriguing questions are answered when one travels through a Netflix series called Chef’s Table.
One of the most striking themes I encountered among most of these chefs was their creative audacity to bring out an unimagine way of preparing and presenting their native cuisines. Like most chefs, they started with the basics, but later on wondered if that was all there was to their career! Will they be forever stuck to simply preparing what other chefs present and what people are used to? Or was there something else for them to discover and contribute?
Most of the chefs became aware that their own culinary traditions and geographical settings had much to offer. For many years, the idea of fine cuisine was confined to French or Italian. No one may have conceived that Mexican, Slovenian, Indian, Thai and other cultures could very well have their own dishes presented in the same sophisticated way as the other already well-known cuisines.
Instead of cooking pasta, steak or ratatouille, etc. these chefs pioneered, so to speak, their own native dishes and came out with extraordinary discoveries. They resurrected dishes already abandoned or forgotten today. Then they re-engineered their own ‘native cuisines’ as cultural vehicles awakening a sense of pride for their culinary heritage, supporting the local farmers who produced naturally grown ingredients and preserving what was once considered already a lost cooking tradition.
Our Catholic faith also has an abundance of very unique and rich ingredients packed, pressed and overflowingly gifted to us on our Baptism. God’s gifts, the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, were meant to raise our nature to something humanly unattainable: supernatural life, to become God’s children.
Perhaps, due to one’s family upbringing, education and ignorance one may not have fully appreciated the rich and savory ingredients of his faith. Perhaps, most of us grew into our faith with our parents’ famous “because-it’s-good-for-you” reason when reluctantly eating our greens, finishing the last grain of rice on our plate, reciting the family Rosary and going to Sunday Mass together. Gradually for some, the childhood flavors of their faith found in colorful Bible stories, guardian angels, rosaries, scapulars and pilgrimages became bland, boring, and bitter.
The flavors of the faith, however, are not lost despite one’s distaste for or disgust in them. They remain as rich and nutritious as ever because they come from God, and His graces never lose their freshness and flavor. It is up to each one to re-discover their unique and timely tang at different stages of life.
What are some of our faith’s most potent and savory ingredients that we can rediscover?
The main and indispensable ingredient is our Lord’s sacred humanity. We encounter Jesus in the Gospels, the New Testament, where we nourish our life with His. Our Lord’s humanity is like ours in everything except sin. By taking more of His life, our own life –moments of joy, sadness, dejection and tiredness, etc.– are purified and made fruitful when united to Jesus. This awareness will undoubtedly give a Christified flavor to one’s life.
The second ingredient would be the sacraments. Of special essence would be the Holy Eucharist and Confession. The Eucharist is like a dish offering us the most important gift: the Body and Blood of Jesus. A faith without the Eucharist is like a dish without salt and pepper, it will lack substance, delight and nourishment.
Confession prepares us well for the Eucharistic celebration, but is also essential to whet our spiritual appetite with penance and sorrow, helping us to desire more intensely our Eucharistic communion with God.
Finally, prayer becomes a mixing bowl or creative kitchen for all these ingredients. Without prayer, we will easily lose our spiritual appetite. It is through this divine and intimate dialogue with God, that the best spiritual recipes are created between God and the soul.
When one prays, he will begin to appreciate and embrace the gifts uniquely bestowed upon him by God. And in the joy of his prayer, he will share with others the richest flavors to everyone in his life.
Creatively rediscovering these ingredients and constantly combining them with our daily circumstances, will open us to spiritual flavors—old and new—that we will also help many around us to taste and see the goodness of God in our life.