Saturday, 4 June 2016

"And That's What BBQ Does"

People are at their best when they realise they really are connected and that's what BBQ does.
Ed Mitchell,
North Carolina Pit Master.
Photo courtesy of vxla from Chicago, US (Brushing Meats with BBQ Sauce) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started cooking world food I have pondered why. Why does it interest me, what does it teach me and does it need to teach me anything except the simple art of cooking and enjoying food?

 My first thoughts tended to lean towards the academic aspect of food and had me thinking it was all quite cerebral, worthy of study and writings in text books. I thought maybe it could teach me about world economies, ancient trade routes, ingredients and their roots. But as I delved into this side of the subject it dawned on me that it had little interest to me. I didn't need to know the ancient spice routes that bought me these cinnamon sticks and to tell the truth the history of the tomato is really quite boring.

I had to go back to the drawing board. What is it about cooking and eating cuisines from around the world that has me so captivated? I thought of my travels, of the memories food conjures up and how it can link you to a moment in time. Whilst that is a part of it I knew it wasn't quite the whole story. Over time the more I cooked, the more techniques I gained, the more flavours I tasted and the more cultures I experienced I realised it is all about one simple thing and nothing more for me. It is all about a shared experience that forms a connection.

It may sound simple and I guess it is simple, connection. Think about it for a while, what are we all looking for in this world even if we don't know it or may even want to deny it, we all want a connection, to belong, to share in something larger than ourselves. Why do we humans form clubs, teams, religions and gangs... we all want to belong. From the Kibbutz to the KKK club house there is one simple tie that binds the human experience in all forms and and that is a shared connection.

When this thought first entered my mind I could feel my whole being pushing back against it. I struggled with it all being such a basic concept, it needed to be deeper. There had to be more to it that just a connection but over time as the concept sunk in, seeping from my brain down through my veins, carried by my vessels around my body and eventually settling in my tummy I knew I was right. This was it and here is how my thought finally formed.

If I eat something you eat, if I cook something you cook then there is a bond.

So simple.

You like Yakatori, I like Yakatori we share a bond. You like Haggis and I hate Haggis then we have a different kind of bond but still a shared bond in the experience of Haggis. You eat Pho for breakfast, I eat Pho for breakfast, we can be friends. You roll out little tortellini's like your mum taught you, you show me how to roll out little tortellini's like your mum taught you and we are like sisters.

The food becomes a bridge, one on which we can both meet in the middle, some common ground despite wildly different cultures, pasts and futures.

I had been ruminating on this for sometime when it all was encapsulated in one sentence for me. Whilst watching the new netflix doco based on the book "Cooked" by Michael Pollan, Ed Mitchell a North Carolina pitmaster told a story from his childhood about blacks and whites coming together at the dinner table during the tobacco harvest for BBQ. Not just any BBQ but whole slow cooked pig. He went on to say that "people are at their best when they realise they really are connected". That one sentence summed up all my thoughts. It really is that simple. If people can share in something they can find a connection and with that connection we can make some sense of the world in which we live. Make it seem less scary, shine a light into those corners that have previously gone unseen.

The more I think about this link the more relevant I see it is right now. As the circus of the American presidential primaries takes place and I watch potential leaders of the worlds most powerful nation spew hate speech like it is back in fashion I know that finding some common ground can only do good. I'm not expecting world peace, life isn't a Miss America Pageant but maybe a little less reckless rhetoric and a little more Kofta with a side of Fatoush would help stabilise the man behind the toupee.

I am willing to follow the lead of Pit Master Mitchell, I mean if a BBQ pig bought together two races as at odds with each other as blacks and whites were in 1950's America then surely we stand a chance today.

Originally posted on Saturday, 4 June 2016 by


  1. I have often thought that cooking authentic old recipes connects us to the people of the past or recreates a part of the past.

  2. I have often thought that cooking authentic old recipes connects us to the people of the past or recreates a part of the past.