by Mike Zolnowski
At a recent social gathering I made the mindless mistake of forgetting to use a utensil to eat my food. After the embarrassment faded I realized as a cook how much I tasted food with my hands and how much more I enjoyed food when I was eating it without utensils. I began to think about the different relationship one has with food when eating with something like a fork, or chop sticks. Something visceral happens when contact is made between food and skin.
One can realize that on the plate, a piece of cheese remains essentially just food. It’s not until the moment a piece is singled out in one’s head– definitively chosen to be the next offering to this conscious being, so very different from this inanimate Munster–that the cheese begins to takes on a personality. Characteristics, depending on the mode of consumption– finger or fork– are discovered as one’s eyes, glued to this miracle of dairy, trace the trail followed by so many before. Is it cut perfectly square? Are one of the angles more acute than the rest? There is a divot near one of the edges. It’s a bit cold. Within this time we are introduced, make friends, and terminate the existence of this cheese. The complexity of this micro-relationship depends largely on whether the fork is present or not. Some attributes can only be deduced by direct contact: temperature, solidity, moisture, texture, and so, when eaten with a fork, the cheese is dumbed down– a more incomplete personality is understood. This is not to say that temperature, moisture, et cetera are not experienced in the mouth, these sensations are felt, but it is devoid of sight and overwhelmed by taste. Analyzing these sensations outside the mouth is not better or worse, only different–another layer of personality experienced, a more complex relationship formed when the two modes of analysis are compounded.
Without the barrier of a utensil, the closeness to our food might also prompt one to think more about what he or she is about to ingest. Closeness to the physical object may bring about closeness to what it means to be the food: how is it made? Who may have made it? Where did it come from? What are the ingredients that make this up? Some of these things cannot be concluded by observable evidence alone; however, once these questions arise, immediately another layer of complexity is added to the relationship, even if the answers are unknown. If unknown, hopefully the curiosity will prompt a small sized investigation into the questions that arise, strengthening further the relationship.
It seems to be, that the lack of fork, while eating, provides an added way to engage the eater, which, more importantly, engages the eater’s mind. The relationship that is formed is nothing more than the expansion of what that piece of cheese is. One who eats only as a means to satiate appetite could look at this piece of cheese and, once analyzed, come to the conclusion it is an off-white cube with some creamy quality, never knowing, never thinking it could be so much more than that, so much more interesting. The only thing standing in one’s way of eating an off-white cube or eating a pale soft yellow, slightly cool, creamy, tangy, with slight salinity, mouth coating, poorly shaped parallelogram with tiny divots near one slightly more acute corner, piece of cheese, is some inquisition, some curiosity.
As much as this is just a mentality detached from how one eats food, it is a physical manifestation of our connection to food as a whole. This deviation from “refined” human behavior can serve as a symbol of what our connection should be, to everything, not just food. A reminder to think a little more, go a little deeper, experience things in a more complex and interesting level. The hope here is that this thought-process will excite and make a person more apt to delve deeper into a subject, becoming trapped in a cycle of curiosity constantly making life more intriguing, fueling the fires of constant learning. Everything needs a starting point, and all good habits need to be reinforced by recurrence, so why not do it with something done enjoyably and often? Maybe the body shouldn’t be the only thing benefitting from nourishment.
Mike graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with an associate degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s in restaurant management. He is now a cook at the esteemed Lincoln Ristorante in New York city which prepares their take on modern Italian cuisine. Mike is also an accomplished photographer and a talented artist.