Wednesday, 9 January 2013

everything I learned about cooking, I learned from this man

Long ago, when I was in high school I was a bit of an oddity.  Unlike my friends who would go and hang out at the mall after school, I would rush home to make it for my favourite show.  Every weekday on CBC at 3:30, James Barber, affectionately known as The Urban Peasant would come on and I would sit glued watching him make magic in the kitchen.  There was always something so warm about him.  He wasn't fussy in the kitchen, sometimes he was even silly, but not Wok with Yan silly, just a regular guy who loved food.  He made everything easy and took the pretension out of cooking that Martha was starting to introduce to the home cook.  He had no problems making fun of her or even Julia Child, who I respect in her own right for sure.  But I think he came at a time when people were feeling disconnected from their food, still enamoured by the TV dinner isle in the freezer section.  His desire was always to make good food accessible, without fancy gadgetry, without fancy styling.  He wasn't a rock star like some TV chefs are now, this was the 90's after all, Iron Chef was still an idea not yet  conceived in North America.  I loved this man, so much so that I went to not one but two of his book signings and had my picture taken with him both times (how I wish I could find that picture.)  I was just that cool.

James Barber taught me how to bring flavours together and play with them.  With a few basic ingredients, I was able to transform boring ordinary dishes into something really wonderful.  He taught me to forget the measuring spoons and go with the feel of my food.  I learned how to cook with love, which he and I still maintain is THE most important ingredient in anything you make.  Most importantly he gave me the confidence to try different things and make mistakes.  I still, religiously make his cream of mushroom soup every Christmas Eve, it is a tradition, much to my children's dismay, will never die.  

At 17, I was beginning my love affair with food that continues to this day.  I love to cook and more importantly, I love to feed people and see the joy that spreads across someone's face when they are eating something really good.  I love how food can bring people together and connect them to one another.  20 years later, I still cook like James taught me how to.  I smell my food, taste it, feel it.  I try new things and sometimes I make mistakes.  But it's ok, good food and the love of it isn't about rock star chefs or ultra stylized food.  Good food is about love, nourishment of body and soul and creativity. I hope to share that with you in the coming year and inspire you to feel good about cooking again too. 

We moved to the Cowichan Valley 5 years ago and shortly after we arrived I learned that he had moved here too.  Sadly, he passed away shortly after, sitting at his kitchen table with a pot of soup cooking on the stove.  His old videos are being released once again and I found one of him making chicken stock.  They changed the opening to the show, it was never like that before, and I have to say I prefer the old one, but it is so good to watch him again.  This is how I learned to make stock, but I never put asparagus into it, I'm not sure what that is about and I do add garlic, just 2 cloves.  The point is, you can take what he does and make it work for you.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.


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