Philosophy of the Kitchen

The kitchen and the table are the condition for a certain philosophy, not the condition for all philosophy, of course, for there is much philosophy conducted elsewhere; and not the condition even for a particular aspect of philosophy, for the philosophy of the kitchen is not restricted in this way; but the condition for a philosophy that proceeds at a certain pace and with a certain rhythm. The philosophy that occurs in this way, between those who are cooking and eating together, takes on the rhythms of the meal. It gives to each subject it encounters the time and the pace that it requires, whether it be the periodic rising and kneading of a bread, or the continual simmering of a reduction, or the focused heat of a grill, and it allows all of these things to happen simultaneously, one layered upon the other, informing each other like the mingling scents of different dishes. Philosophy conducted in this way is held by the teeth, savoured on the tongue, inhaled by the nostrils.

This philosophy of the table does not, however, occur of its own accord. Like a good meal, a space and time has to be made for it, not only in the banal sense of holding a place open in my schedule or making sure there is a space available, but in the much more profound sense that I need to create, to fashion, to shape the space and the time to do a meal justice, to do a conversation justice. It is not a matter of saying, “I can squeeze you in for an hour between this previous thing and this later thing,” because this way of making time always assumes that the meal and the conversation will be made to fit the time that I allot for it. Rather, it is a matter of saying, “I will make myself available for however long that this meal and this conversation requires, and I will do what is required to do it justice,” because this way of making time is willing to take its time, to pass its time, to be of its time.

For example, I spent this past Saturday evening at Dave Humphrey’s house. His wife and daughters were vacationing. My wife and sons had released me for the night. True to our practice, we had little in the way of recipes. We had decided on some ingredients in advance: We had steaks from locally raised, hormone free, field grazed beef, t-bones, with beautiful large sirloins. I prepared a wet, garlic rub for them. Dave began a reduction to accompany them on the plate. We had thick, slab-like bacon, also locally raised and hormone free. We fried and cut it for the vegetables and potatoes. We added some simple spices to the drippings and poured them over hasselbacked potatoes. We had shrimp. We sauted them in the remaining bacon drippings and mixed them with the vegetables. We had a beautiful olive bread. We ate until we could not even stomach the thought of the grilled mango cheesecake that Dave had prepared for dessert, to my lasting regret.

I dwell on this because we also dwelt on it. We began cooking at 3:30 in the afternoon, and we finished eating sometime late in the evening. We opened our first bottle of wine shortly after I arrived, and we finished the last one when it was late enough that we had long since stopped looking at the clock. Among those in between was a particularly nice Bordeaux that we could not make linger nearly long enough. It flowed through the meal like the theme of a poem or a song. We followed where it meandered.

In this time and space that we had prepared, our conversation, the philosophy of the kitchen, also meandered according to its own theme and its own gait. It began by circling around ideas of media and spectrality, because this is what I have been reading lately and because this relates to Dave’s occupation. It brushed often against questions of pedagogy. It wove its way through the practice of reading and writing in various media. It was punctuated repeatedly by the matters of the home, and the table, and the garden, and the meal. In short, it took its time. It allowed its thinking and its speaking the time necessary to do themselves justice. This is the philosophy of the kitchen, not merely a philosophy about how and what the kitchen is, but a philosophy that finds it proper habitation in the rhythms of the home and the meal and the conversation.

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