I always knew it would be a priority to initiate my son to
the pleasures of the palate, that his “education of taste”, as we call it in
French (éducation du goût), was
something dear to my heart. For many reasons. Because we just love good food so
much. Because it’s the way I was raised. Because it’s good for his health.
Because it’s a big part of his French culture.
As I started on this journey and
writing this blog, I realized that it went beyond that. Food and everything
about it (cooking it, growing it, shopping for it, eating it, learning from it,
approaching it from the five senses, among many other things) have become a
golden learning opportunity. For me and for him. I have talked about how food
can be a bias to practice patience and anticipation. And learning to be in the moment. And appreciating the process. And experiencing human connection, friendship.
It’s also a way to experience beauty.
Our society tends to
have a very limited, narrow-minded vision of what beauty is nowadays. Yet, here’s
what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:
beauty – the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that
gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit
Beauty is in the soul and mind, the wide-open mind, of the
In this sense, young children know how to see beauty, almost
everywhere. Their mind is completely open to things of amazement and interest,
unspoiled by expectations, preconceived notions, prejudice, judgment. To Pablo, a garbage truck is a thing of
beauty. Or a worker painting a window. Or ducks and squirrels. Or the ocean.
The snow. A guitar. A voice.
Or an artichoke, a carrot, a gratin hot out of the oven. A
Knowing how to see beauty around us, sometimes having to pry
our grown-up minds open to do so, our senses on alert, fully connected to our
world body and mind: now there’s something worth living for.
And very dear to me is the desire to preserve and nurture my
son’s open mind, share with him how rich life is when we can see beauty. When
we see it a lot, every day, particularly in the little things. That’s where
it’s the juiciest and most delicate. In the little things.
We expect children to get excited about garbage trucks and
ducks on a pond. Grown-ups, myself included, tend to pump them up about such things,
anticipating their thrill.
And perhaps the best tip to parents out there wanting their
children to enjoy eating well, the best “education of taste” tip I have, is to
apply that same excitement to food. I get excited about food because it is a
thing of beauty. And that excitement is contagious. And I am happy to report that after 21 months of lots of food-related excitement, Pablo gets it.
The definition above could very well be the definition of good cuisine. Eating and sharing a delicious food is experiencing beauty with body and mind.
Food is a rich way to experience beauty from a very young age. With all five senses.
See the beauty of an endive, for example. Oblong and smooth, pale nuances of green and yellow. Its smell fresh, almost like rain. When you squeeze it, you hear it crack a little. After you feel it crunchy on your teeth, you taste its light bitterness.
Yes, an endive is a thing of beauty.
(This, by the way, is an “exercise” of sorts I like to do with Pablo and will be doing a lot more.)
Now. Let’s travel together.
I have been in love with Japanese cuisine and culture for many years. I was lucky enough to visit Japan a few years ago, and realized how kindred in spirit the French and Japanese are, particularly in regards to food. Great care is devoted not only to the flavors of the foods (and how to
combine them artfully and deliciously), but also presentation, color and
Subtlety – or the ability to see the value in the little things – is
embraced. The sushi chef, like a painter adding touches of paint and
brushstrokes of color to his work, adds a pinch of special sea salt on a
scallop, a leaf of shiso, a dash of pickled plum, a few seeds of sesame over
rice that is in itself a work of art, just the right texture, just the right
temperature. Those things make a difference. Their sum is the experience of beauty at every bite.
I am no expert at Japanese cuisine. I know I love it.
(I have learned so much about it thanks to the wonderful Nami at Just One Cookbook, I highly recommend her easy and delightful recipes.)
So I just improvised this ridiculously simple Japanese salad just
combining different ingredients I like. It’s a nice little “visit to Japan” the time of a meal, so if you get a chance to stop by a Japanese grocery store in your area and pick up some of these ingredients, give it a try (if you are unfamiliar with raw seafood, this is definitely a salad for the fearless and open-minded!)
A lot of Occidentals have issues with the textures of raw fish and seafood, but toddlers can be very open-minded on this front as well.
Pablo adores raw oysters, fish, clam, urchin and salmon roe. Perhaps your child, or yourself, will see the beauty of it too?