Food is an essential part of a thriving, healthy community. Whether served from home kitchens, school lunchrooms, neighborhood diners or fine dining rooms, the act of cooking, serving and eating together is essential—it feeds our bodies and our souls. Ratna Ling is a Buddhist Retreat Center located in Cazadero, California. Close to the Pacific Ocean and built among the Northern California redwood trees, Ratna Ling is from the Tibetan language and means “the place of the jewel.” I have had an opportunity to visit Ratna Ling and in an effort to give back to their community, I thought it would be nice to cook a meal for the people who operate the center and those who were there to study and meditate. Their center has a very nice kitchen where a team of cooks makes all of the meals to be shared by the people staying there. It is a vegetarian kitchen and they concentrate on sourcing good, healthy food from local farms and gardens. Their staff welcomed me into their kitchen and together, we made a delicious meal for lunch. While I was there cooking I was really reminded of time spent with my grandmother and mother in my childhood kitchen. Even though the kitchen at Ratna Ling is quite large and a very nice, commercial style facility, there was a calmness there that was very relaxing. The food was simple but the ingredients were superb in quality. While preparing an heirloom tomato salad, zucchini gratin and roasted figs I was thinking of the beginnings of my cooking experience and recalling the way that my grandmother would hold her knife or how she always made vinaigrette “by her nose,” meaning that she was cooking by her instinct. I have found that while technique is essential to my profession, it is also important to have a certain level of instinct help you create soulful dishes. Cooking in the Ratna Ling kitchen was an extremely satisfying experience and helped bring me back to a place of good memories and fulfillment in the act of cooking and serving simple, nutritious and delicious food.
Inside Le Bernardin, our New York City restaurant, the main focus is of course, excellence in our food and ensuring that our clients have a fantastic experience. In the kitchen, we are consumed with extreme concentration and proper execution of the recipes. The dining room staff has the demanding job of getting the food to the table and interacting with all of the people eating in the restaurant. There is a support team who keeps everything running smoothly by attending to the business of the restaurant and also those who keep the restaurant clean and organized. The work is mentally and physically challenging so staying focused and strong during service is incredibly important. Two times a day we serve what we call “family meal” to everyone who works here. The food is usually home style food that is not only delicious, but provides us with good nutritional balance to help us work through the day and night to serve the very best food that we can. Family meal is also a great opportunity for us to sit down together and chat about our lives outside of the restaurant but also to discuss anything that might have to do with what we are working on that day. It is an important time for our Le Bernardin “community.”
Cooking for friends at home is a great way to make connections with our community too. Preparing food for people is an act of giving but is also fun. In this episode I will show you how to make traditional Spanish paella. It is a hearty, rice, fish and shellfish dish that also has some spicy, Spanish chorizo sausage in it. Paella can be made in large batches to feed a crowd and it is a fun dish to prepare as your guests arrive because even though it takes a little time to make it from start to finish, it is assembled in steps. Guests can help you make the dish or they can enjoy a drink and chat with you while the cooking is taking place. The combination of social interaction with great food truly makes “dinner social.”