At the culinary professional conference I attended in New Orleans a few weeks ago, one of the most engaging and inspiring workshops I attended was called “Framing the Farmer: A Food Life List, Ten Food Experiences Before I Die.” The farmer in question was the eloquent, insightful, soulful Mas Masumoto-author of Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, among other books, and owner of Masumoto Family Farm near Fresno, California. He had been a keynote speaker at our conference here in Seattle a few years ago and had us laughing, crying, doing some impromptu creative writing and generally feeling inspired about our day-to-day work. I’ll never miss an opportunity to hear him speak. He presented this year’s workshop with his wife, Marcy, and charming, talented daughter Nikiko.
I’ve not gotten on the whole “life list” bandwagon yet, so the idea of a food life list was a doubly new exercise for me. Masumoto spoke of the importance of setting these culinary goals for ourselves, in concrete, written, detailed form. He, naturally, used the perfect peach as an example, how mind-blowing it is to finally taste a juicy, aromatic, honey-like peach warmed by the sun after a lifetime of eating bland mass-produced fruit. It’s not about achieving perfection, per se, but more about the pursuit itself. It helps create dreams, goals, nudges us to want, and demand, more from the food we eat.
Before long the family was passing out sheets of paper they’d had printed up with “My Food Life List” across the top. Then, five minutes or so to start committing our own food life lists to paper.
I found my thoughts turning to destination related experiences: sitting in a small rustic chalet in an Alpine village, eating raclette that’s been warmed alongside a wood fire. Being in the north of Italy during porcini season (and I was specific here, it’s to be at a porcini festival for an all-consuming experience).
I guess my sense of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences is inextricably tied to place. In part, it’s geography. But more importantly about going to the source, changing my own surroundings so that I become more aware, more alert to the many dimensions of newness around me. Not just the bite of food going into my mouth, but the smells, the sights, the people, the mood and ambiance.
The thing that stymied me about completing my food life list that day-I only wrote down three of the recommended ten items, sensing that I’d failed an exam-was that I felt I couldn’t know yet what should be on my life list. I don’t really know what wonders of the culinary world I haven’t yet experienced until I cross them for the first time. It’s hard to know what we don’t know.
What I did think about was the amazing food experiences I have had that would be life-list worthy. Near the very top of the list are bliss-out moments that include eating king crab on Kodiak Island in Alaska, crab that had been lifted from the frigid water not an hour earlier and cooked immediately shoreside in a gigantic pot over a propane flame. And strolling the bustling Via Tribunali in central Naples last spring, eating my first slice of honest-to-god true Neapolitan pizza in pizza’s birthplace. And I still have never tasted ice cream like that my girlfriend and I ate frequently (delicious, and it fit our limited budget!) on our 1985 trip to Turkey.
Only the pizza was a tangible goal I had on my mental “life list.” The crab and the ice cream? I didn’t know they’d be so rapturous, so delicious, and ultimately so fully burned into my permanent food memory until after the fact.
Near the end of their presentation, Mas Masumoto and his family handed out special little plastic covers for our life list notes, magnetized so to easily display on our refrigerator at home, proclaiming our goals for all to see. Because mine is just those wimpy few goals at this point, it’s on the fridge, but down low, away from line of sight. I’d like to proudly present all ten goals front and center some day.
So, here’s my proposition. Maybe we can all help each other with our food life lists by passing along a few of the life-altering, blissful, once-in-a-lifetime food experiences that you have experienced and know other food lovers would relish as well? I can’t wait to read your suggestions. I may add them to my own list and move it to a more prominent position on my fridge.