I have often been asked how long have I been cooking. Well, the answer is simple. I took up eating at an early age, and I have gotten quite good at it…and I learned to cook because I liked to eat. But this is also a tongue-in-cheek response that doesn’t do justice to the real answer.
When you meet me, you will know from my lilting accent that I am not from here. Actually, I am from about as far away as you can be, about 3,100 miles to Charleston, South Carolina. And being raised in the Deep South, more than the accents are different; our whole language is different. We couch virtually all conversations in a culinary frame. My father doesn’t tell me how he is doing. He tells me what he is having for supper. Dinner is the noonday meal, for your information. Even our terms of endearment…sweetie, honey, puddin’… just reinforce the belief that Food is another word for Love.
And now I find myself a continent removed from Home, serving in that honoured capacity of firefighter. My fellows in the department, I am sure, do not know how to take me. However, they can testify that there is always a treat handy, in case someone has forgotten breakfast, or left their wallet at home. Meals that I cook typically involve smoke alarms, obscene numbers of dirty pots, and general unease at overeating before a drill or training. And yet they tolerate me and my quirky-ness.
So here I have landed in Bellingham, City of Subdued Excitement, although I didn’t understand what that moniker meant. It was supposed to be a brief respite, literally a stopping point as the Prodigal Son returned to the pluff mud and Palmetto trees of the Lowcountry. And so many foreign sights. Does everyone drive a Subaru? Is there a coffee stand on every corner? Who exactly is Ryan Stiles? And what in the name of all that is holy is a “Hamster”? All these answers and more I have learned.
Even more so, I have had the opportunity to observe the people. At 2 o’clock in the morning when the pain gets too much. At 10 o’clock at evening when a deer jumps out in front of the car. And especially afterwards, when I am at the Daisy Café or the Black Cat or Avellino, and someone has a kind word for me. Everywhere a kind word and a smile. It makes me take pause and take measure. So I look around and look in myself and know what I am going to do.
I am Southern male and a firefighter, and that puts two strikes against me when it comes to sharing my emotions. I live simply in a 12’x12’ room at Station 21. But when I cook at the station on drill night, or whip up a meal in an obliging friend’s kitchen, or when I write a cookbook about the signature tastes of Bellingham and its people…it’s my humble way of saying that Food truly is another word for Love. And I thank you so much for that privilege.