My love for cooking, especially for my family, goes back a ways. Food has always been a love language in my family for as long as I can remember, and I seem to speak it well — both in consumption and preparation.
You name it, I love cooking it, whether it’s a holiday feast, a quickly imagined meal during the week or a Sunday dinner that I spent the day cooking. I enjoy a variety of techniques: grilling and smoking, recipes for slow cookers and Dutch ovens, seared steaks put into a hot oven to finish, and soups and pasta sauces simmering all day on the stovetop. (I’m also unafraid to use the air fryer or pressure cooker when time and the recipe call for it.)
I love to feed my family with something I prepared. It makes me feel like I’m being better for them, showing love and gratitude. And since cooking is an art that takes practice in order to get better, I enjoy the feeling of making a meal that earns a bit of praise. I think I inherited this relationship with cooking from my mother.
I have many memories of her food, not just eating the meal but also experiencing my mother’s preparation and cooking with all my senses. My anchor memory probably goes back to a day in New York City when my mother was making Bolognese-style spaghetti sauce. She lived in Europe for a while when she was an opera singer, traveling and performing all over the continent, and she often spoke of her favorite times in Italy, learning enough of the language to make her performances authentic and taking in enough of the culture to bring back recipes.
The kitchen was a slender space, but the centerpiece was the stove, of course, and that’s where my mother showed her artistic talents of another kind, the art of cooking with love. Everything I learned about cooking with love, I learned from my mother, which she no doubt learned from her own mother, and especially from her aunts after her mother passed away.
As a father of four — two young-adult children and two school-age children — I’ve been cooking for my kids for a while. To be clear, I am by no means the only cook in our home or even the most frequent, although there was a time when that was the case.
One of my first memories of cooking for my family was making my mom’s spaghetti sauce for my older sons when they began living with me during the summers. I left work early to start dinner, before heading back out to pick the kids up from summer camp at day care. The kids seemed to enjoy the meal — I knew the sauce wasn’t as good as my mom’s, but it was good enough. Cooking in the kitchen for my family is a way of connecting with my mother, even though she is no longer physically with us. More deeply, it stretches back to ancestral traditions passed down through time, changed to suit the generation and the succeeding generations and palates. It’s a way to show my wife and children my love and appreciation. I feel like I get to create something just for my family, nourishing them in one of the most basic ways possible. I feel at home in the kitchen, and I try to put my heart into the food — when my family loves it, it feels like a hug.
James Warren is vice president with brand strategy and consulting firm JMI.