Remembering that very first taste

This story originally ran in The Aspen Daily News on June 22, 2014.

There’s no accounting for taste.

That’s according to Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin and three top chefs — Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson and Jonathan Waxman — who spoke at the annual Food & Wine Classic on Saturday.

Cowin hosted a panel titled “Food Memories,” as a part of the festival’s Classic Conversation Series. The 45-minute conversation with the world’s top foodies drew about 45 people to the Theatre Aspen tent. Everyone in attendance was sober from the previous day’s festivities, which was an impressive feat, Cowin noted at the start of the session.

Cowin asked each chef to describe their first memory of food.

Pepin, a 78-year-old internationally recognized French chef, television personality and author, said his first memory was being on a family-owned farm in France, drinking fresh milk from a recently milked cow.

“That kind of taste was more than a taste,” Pepin said. “It was comfort. It was happiness. It was security.”

Waxman’s first memory was biting into a chocolate Hershey’s candy bar when he was about 6 or 7 years old visiting his father in Los Angeles, he said. Waxman, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif., remembers how that taste tingled in his cheeks.

“I always want to go back to that sensation,” he said.

Waxman is a classically trained cook and he’s considered a pioneer of California cuisine.

For Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Goteborg, Sweden, and worked his way up the culinary ranks, his first memories go back to his grandmother’s house in Africa. The food was rustic and minimal, because his grandmother didn’t trust electric appliances, he said.

“Everything tasted different at my grandma’s house,” Samuelsson said.

Despite their different backgrounds, the panelists all agreed that the experience of eating a meal is impacted by the event’s time, place and company. That means certain meals stick out in their memories as being the best, even though from a traditional culinary standpoint the food might have not been prepared right.

Ultimately, what defines good food comes down to the person who is experiencing it.

“To cook and to be a good host is to please someone,” Pepin said. “ … Whether you agree with it or not is irrelevant.”

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