Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the laps of our cooks. — Lin Yutang
In Chinese mythology, Zao Jun is the kitchen god.The importance of the kitchen in Chinese culture is evident in Zao Jun’s yearly duty to report to the Jade Emperor, Yu Huang, on the goings on of each household. The Jade Emperor rewards good deeds with good fortune and misdeeds with ill in the coming year. As the kitchen was seen as the center of every home, Zao Jun was well informed, indeed.
Now I’m not Chinese and the idea of an informer to the gods lurking in my kitchen is not my idea of an ideal houseguest. One of the joys of being a 21st Century American is that we have access to cultures and ideas from all over the world and what’s even better is the we get to pick and choose. Of Chinese birth, but a uniquely American icon, Bruce Lee said, “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.” And so, take and use I will.
I like the idea of a kitchen god, an aspect of the divine that resides in my kitchen with whom I can commune in a daily ritual enriching not only my own life but that of those I love as well.
What’s the most important room in your house? In mine it is definitely the kitchen. It is not only the geographical center of my home but its heart as well. I’ve always got something going in there, even if it’s just a simple bone broth.
The kitchen and it’s adjoining dining room table serve as the meeting ground for my family. It’s where we gather for our evening meal, check in and savor each other’s company. Okay, that’s not quite true, I have teenage daughters. Samantha and I savor and we squeeze as much as we can get from Madeline, Bronwyn and Thalia as they cajole and wheedle their ways back to homework and Facebook. But we do come together every evening for a meal and time together as a family.
In all honesty my daughters just don’t know how good they have it right now. I expect that will change somewhat as Madeline goes off to college, but for now, they are spoiled and I’d rather it be that way.
Food is essential. You are what you eat and, just as important, how it was prepared. By “how it was prepared” I mean more than just what techniques were used. I mean what was the spirit with which it was made? Was it made in love? Anger? Laughter? Frustration? The attitude of the cook goes a long way to affecting the food produced both in terms of taste and digestion.
The preparation of food is the ultimate offering. Far from being a chore that has to be dealt with this is the offering of sustenance, the very makings of life itself, to yourself or another. In truth it is the holiest of rites. It is only through endless repetition and boredom that we have forgotten this.
Food is Medicine
“He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.” — Chinese proverb
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” — Hippocrates
“If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” — Aryuvedic Saying
“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” — Thomas Edison
“It’s supposed to be a secret, but I’ll tell you anyway. We doctors do nothing. We only help and encourage the doctor within.” — Albert Schweitzer, M.D.
“The human body heals itself and nutrition provides the resources to accomplish the task.” — Roger Williams Ph.D. (1971)
Clearly, I am taken with the idea that our health begins with our food. Early on as a trainer I came across the saying, “You can’t out exercise a bad diet.” It took some time for me to understand its validity.
At first I had to overcome the threat to my skills as a fitness professional. I mean, if people are coming to me to help them lose weight and alter their physiques, wherein lies my usefulness if the true answer to their problems lie in diet? The answer is, of course, no where.
The second obstacle was my own diet. It was not until I had managed to get a handle on my diet that I could let go of my insecurities about body image and what it was I was trying to achieve as a trainer.
For the record, the shape of your body and it’s overall health, is entirely dependent on your diet.
Exercise and movement are just icing on the top. They’re important, yes, and help promote all sort of vital goings on in your body, but if your diet isn’t right for you, you’re just bailing out the Titanic with a mop bucket.
So, what happens when I discuss diet with clients? I usually get a downcast look and and sigh, “Yeah, I knew that…” And that’s usually it. It’s as if we’ve hit an insurmountable obstacle. “Oh, that’s how I get healthy? That’s never going to happen.”
I believe this phenomena exists for two reasons. 1) People associate diet with DIET, as in’ “I’m going on a diet.” Which is a temporary period of denial and discomfort that results in short term losses that are obliterated when will power fails leaving the dieter more depressed than when he/she started. 2) Even after I’ve explained that a good diet is not by definition depriving and that satiety is a sign of a body well nourished I get resistance because a good diet consists of whole foods ideally prepared fresh and at home — and most people either don’t know how or don’t like to cook.
Enter Zao Jun’s Kitchen
Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand. — (Chinese proverb)
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. — Harriet Van Horne
In the past I have offered cooking classes in my home and while they have been very enjoyable I question how effective they’ve been at imparting real skills the student can take home and apply. More than not I think they’ve just been an opportunity to have friends over for dinner and an opportunity to show off my skills in the kitchen, in the end of more benefit to me than those who paid to attend.
Zao Jun’s Kitchen is an effort to bring those skills to you, to invite the god of cooking into your home and give him a place at your stove. Here’s how it works. What follows is a small questionnaire and a list of essential kitchen tools and pantry items. Fill out the questionnaire and make sure you have these items. Optional items are nice but not necessary. Once I’ve reviewed the questionnaire we’ll have a chat about food. We’ll talk about what you like to eat, how we can make it better for you and come up with a menu for our class.
On the day of your class we’ll meet at your house, go grocery shopping together and come back to your kitchen to explore techniques and strategies to help you eat better. That means, we’ll cook. That’s right, we’ll cook in your kitchen and I’ll show you how to transform cooking from a laborious chore into a daily meditation. Something you actually look forward to and find value in every day.
In an effort to kick this off I’m going to offer this class at an introductory rate of $35 an hour to the first five who sign up. I expect each class to last no more than four hours, including the trip to the grocery store. If you are interested, email the completed questionnaire to email@example.com (you can just cut and paste it into a Word document). I’ll get in touch with you for the initial consultation and we’ll set a date and time.
Do you enjoy cooking? Yes _____ No _____
Do you enjoy eating? Yes _____ No _____
What are your favorite meals?
What are your “emergency” go to foods?
What are your comfort foods?
Describe your relationship with food.
How many times a week do you sit down to a meal? _____
How many times a week do you prepare your own food? _____
How often do you eat out? _____
What are your favorite local restaurants?
How many times a week do you grocery shop? ______
How often do you eat frozen or pre-prepared meals? ______
Must Have Kitchen Utensils
These are the items you must have in your kitchen in order for it to be a workable kitchen. Anything less and you ain’t cooking. I am assuming of course that you have a stove and while I would prefer a gas range I understand not everyone has one and that it would be unreasonable of me to ask you to have one installed prior to our class. Grudgingly, I will teach you to cook on a electric stovetop. The best source for any of the below Items is BRESCO in Birmingham. You just can’t go wrong with restaurant quality tools.
9” cast iron skillet
stainless saute pan
2 cup measuring cup
These items are not necessary, but do make life in the kitchen all the more sweeter.
This is a suggested list of grocery items you have on hand at all times. A well stocked pantry makes cooking much more of a pleasure.
Coarse Sea Salt
Black Pepper corns
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Herbs and spices according to taste:
Herbs according to taste
Tomatoes, diced, crushed and paste
To our perfect imperfection,