I TRAVEL FOR WORK, and I travel to inspire my work. I know I’m on an unforgettable trip when each of my senses has the power to conjure and create a memory. When I returned from one such voyage recently, I considered how our homes reward the use of all our senses, though sometimes we fail to reflect upon any beyond sight and touch.
Nigel Slater, the revered food writer and author of the cookbooks Tender and Ripe, among many others, has observed that “there is delight in food far beyond what is on the plate.” I couldn’t agree more.
Tasting things, for example, is one of my greatest pleasures. I learned to love food primarily from my father and from Dave, a man who owned a produce store in the town I grew up in. At a time when kiwis, passion fruit and kumquats were still exotic to Americans, Dave would guide me down the aisles of his shop, cutting open curious fruits and vegetables to let me taste anything I felt brave enough to bite into.
To me, living well and eating well are synonymous, and for as long as I’ve been able to forge memories, the two have been inextricably linked. I love eating at people’s homes; I love having people eat at mine. The food can be simple or elaborate, but I always take great pleasure in it. The friends who have me over most often tend to be engaged in the kitchen, exploring their vast repertoires. I associate certain houses with certain dishes: melons sliced and served on the terrace with prosciutto. Linguini, anchovies and chili flakes with red wine at the time of year when we have to begin moving meals inside. Salmon ceremoniously grilled on cedar planks. Game roasting on a spit over a roaring fire in a hearth large enough to stand in when the air outside has reached freezing.
The joy Dave taught me in exploring the unknown has influenced how I entertain. When I have people over, I try to serve them something I’ve never made before. A couple years ago, I was at the fish market when a man next to me said, in a conspiratorial tone, “What’s your secret?” I replied, “To what?” He pointed to the eight octopi being bagged for me. I laughed. “I don’t know yet,” I told him. “I’ve never made them before.”
He looked at me in shock. “But you’re buying eight!” I told him I was having friends over and was fairly certain they would remain my friends even if I served them something bad. (As it happens, I did: The octopi failed to reveal their secret to me. I still call the guests friends.)
Experimenting in the kitchen, concocting new things, is no different for me than designing an object, a piece of furniture or an entire hotel — it’s just that you can engage with your creation much more quickly. Whether I spend a month or a moment preparing a meal for friends, whether I’m cooking in my kitchen or asking if I can insinuate myself in someone else’s, there are few joys more gratifying than working in a medium that touches every single one of our senses. Food is the only thing I know that does this — and as we have all experienced, some foods and certain meals create memories in a way few other things do.
So turn on some music, see what’s in the fridge, get your hands messy, taste and smell things as you go and pass the evening with people you adore — as often as possible. The most gracious thing about entertaining, after all, is the invitation.