Human evolution includes the evolution of the senses; food engages all five. You can see it, smell it, hear it, touch it, and taste it all at the same time.
My love of cooking comes from deep in my subconscious before memory, in my dreams, my bones and my blood. It comes from the sounds and smells that woke me every morning before I knew the difference between what was a dream and what was real. When I was a child I never woke to the sound of an alarm clock, instead I woke to the sound of the aluminum lid rattling as steam escaped the rice cooker. The steady, strong and rhythmic pounding of the mortar and pestle, the scraping and clanging of metal on metal from the spatula on the wok, the pop and hiss and spit of meat and spices hitting hot oil.
The smells that enticed me to open my eyes were steamy, sweet, herbal jasmine rice; strong, sharp, fresh, frying garlic; subtle, salty, meaty pork soup with tofu. Each morning had a different mix of smells and each day a different combination of sounds.
My love of cooking comes from these memories which inspired me to be a chef and to continue to feed my passion. These memories call me to revisit the dishes from my childhood and motivate me to create new dishes combining new flavors as I learn and explore new food cultures.
I am closest to my true self when I am cooking, talking about food, and sharing my knowledge with curious people who have never experienced Thai food. It is when I am most comfortable.
The sounds that were the thread connecting my dreams to the waking world varied. The timbre of the ‘klok, klok, klok' sometimes deep and heavy or sometimes thin and light; depended on the type of mortar and pestle needed for the dish my grandmother was making. Thai's have three different kinds of mortar and pestle: a wooden mortar and pestle for dishes mixing larger ingredients and coating them with sauces or dressings, a clay mortar with wooden pestle for a more detailed and complete blending of ingredients, and the heaviest granite mortar and pestle for pulverizing ingredients into a paste.
Every time I cook today, when I create a new dish, I travel back like in a time machine to visit specific events and memories… When I cook for children around 6 and 9 years old I get so excited, I return to days when I was that age and it's like a time machine. I can smell all the food and see things clearly. But, if I have to cook for a person who is 50 years old I may have to dream while I'm awake intentionally.
I remember the large pan was dented and blackened from decades of use. We were making a traditional winter soup that used ingredients to warm the body and strengthen the immune system. I now know how important it is to make something authentic: something with roots, fresh, whole ingredients, simple, beautiful food. I am in love with food. Food is memory, food is history, food is life.
Wanphen McDonald (Pangea Kitchen's Thai chef)