How to cook great food and find peace

When I think about my life in spiritual terms and how that relates to my cooking, I realize that when I’m happy and spiritually fit, my food also benefits. I’ve come to believe that when you’re cooking, the food absorbs whatever vibrational frequency you’re putting out. When I’m angry or sad, often the result is something that just doesn’t work out very well. Somehow the food itself is as sad as the emotion that went into it.

One of those dishes that seems to be particularly affected for me is rice. When I first started cooking rice every day at a restaurant early on in my career, I was always worried about how it would turn out. It was a big responsibility, cooking rice that would go out to over 100 guests. I had to get it right and it needed to be ready by no later than 4pm every day. I would set my timer and measure everything out exactly, always worried about the possibility that something could go wrong. I really struggled. My process was to turn off the heat after twenty minutes and let the pot sit for ten minutes before removing the lid. Meanwhile, I’d pace around thinking about all the things I might have screwed up. Did I turn it down at the right time? Was the lid sealed enough? Did I have the flame adjusted to just the right temperature? Then I’d pull off the lid and sure enough… undercooked!! Or cooked unevenly, burnt on the bottom, too wet, too dry, too clumpy, you name it. I continued to stress about and sometimes mess up the rice for a good two weeks, becoming very frustrated.

Then one day I just turned it over. I surrendered. I was sick and tired of worrying about the damn rice, and decided that I just wasn’t going to stress anymore. If it was no good, it was no good. My life would go on. The customers would eat dinner just like they did every day. I casually rounded up my ingredients and just started tossing stuff in the pot. No measuring cups. A few sprigs of thyme, maybe 4, or 6, whatever, if it wasn’t going to be right it didn’t really matter. The rice came to a boil. I glanced over as if to say, “do whatever you want”. A few minutes later I slapped a lid on it, turned it down and walked away. I didn’t set a timer… I had plenty of other things to do to get ready for dinner service. I just moved on, focusing on the next few items on my list.

What happened next may sound a little silly, but the rice basically sang to me. It called out, “Hey, I’m doing great over here, I think you can turn me off now.” I didn’t actually hear those words in my head. It was just a feeling, an energy. I had connected to the food in a way that felt like we were on the same vibrational level. From that day forward, I have always made perfect rice. And the way I cook rice is just how I operate in a kitchen. I start a lot of things cooking at once, no timers. I relax into the rhythm of the kitchen and listen to the food. If I’m present and not worried or stressed out about the end result, the food I produce is consistently great.

Logic might tell me that I need to speed up when I walk into the kitchen. There are a ton of things to accomplish every day. Everything must be done at very specific times. It must all be done NOW!! But it’s for these exact reasons that I take a deep breath and slow down as I walk into the kitchen each day. Relax into the rhythm, I tell myself, and all will be well. For me, cooking for lots of people is not only relaxing but therapeutic. When my life outside work is challenging, I always know that there is peace for me in this place. With the orchestrated chaos unfolding all around me, a gentle hum brings me together with the food and heals my soul.

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Executive Chef and author with 30 + years in the service industry. I have two amazing sons and a passion for food and the restaurant industry.

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Chef Paolo Neville

Executive Chef and author with 30 + years in the service industry. I have two amazing sons and a passion for food and the restaurant industry.