As I was preparing the evening meal, my mind was cooking up a slew of thoughts and memories.
The woman who stood at the counter slicing fresh vegetables to mix with olive oil and a variety of spices and seasonings while waiting for the oven to reach the right temperature was not a stranger to me.
She’d always been full of surprises and not one to be easily defined or predictable in nature. In actuality, she was often an enigma even to herself.
That woman is me—and I found myself genuinely amused as I worked the kitchen in an obvious state of joy and contentment.
At a tender age, I became obsessed with table settings, which grew into a passion for dining. I was enamored by the way a table was set and how the food was arranged just so on the plate. This was taken to another level when I decided to study business etiquette and international protocol, learning the nuances of forks and knives, glasses and napkins.
Courses were timed impeccably and service was white-glove. Watching the wait staff was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance—grace and rhythm, agility and efficiency. They were well orchestrated and skillful in their craft.
For as long, as I can remember, setting the table was important to me. Whether silverware or plasticware, it was a symbol of preparation, anticipation, and appreciation for the meal we were about to receive. Friends would give me a hard time about going to the trouble or being fancy when that wasn’t the case at all. It was a ritual and one that was special to me—whether alone or with others.
Though I loved to dine, I saw no need to cook. I stored things in my dishwasher and had decorative signs randomly placed that stated “kitchen for display only” and “I understand the concept of cooking and cleaning, but not how they apply to me.”
Popcorn was considered its own food group and qualified as dinner. The thought of exerting energy on shopping, preparing, and cooking a meal was beyond my comprehension.
Then in my 40s, my autoimmune conditions took a nosedive and I found myself in the position of having to change my eating habits. It was time to test my cooking skills, or lack thereof, and start my journey of using food as medicine.
I’d always had a passion for nutrition and fitness, holding certifications in group fitness instruction, personal training, and nutrition coaching. But that never transferred to the kitchen—until that pivotal time in my life when I was forced to roll up my sleeves, open the cookbook, and hit the stove.
And it was then that I fell in love with slicing and dicing, simmering and boiling, grilling, baking, and more.
Tonight, the meal was prepared, table was set, and I placed my napkin on my lap as I sat; then I gently picked up my fork and knife to lift that first bite to my lips that would bring such pleasure to my taste buds. The soft music filled the air while my dog sat by my side, begging for a taste herself. I got lost not only in the joy of cooking—but the art of dining.
Luxury and elegance is a state of mind, a way of living. It does not require materialistic goods or fancy restaurants. It only asks that we be mindful, present, and make mealtime a sacred and intentional action.
Here are four ways to create ambience and participate in the art of dining:
Set the table
A paper cup, paper plate, napkin, and plasticware are all that’s needed. We are not talking about formal or costly tableware; we are talking about preparing for and anticipating the food we’re about to receive. And if you’re so inclined, light a candle and play your favorite music.
If you had an appointment, you’d write it in your calendar and be sure to be on time. Mealtime should be no exception. It may not be possible to achieve this every day, but do it whenever you can.
You don’t need a crowd
Dining can be done with others—or solo. You are company enough and rituals deserve to be honored, not saved for special occasions. Every day can be a special occasion.
Savor the experience
Cherish the moments you spend at the dinner table—or counter, floor, desk. Wherever you choose to eat, spend that time not only savoring the food, but savoring the moments. Think of this time as an opportunity to reflect on the day, plan the evening, and simply be.
I leave you with some of my favorite cooking and dining quotes as well as the reminder that those of us who are fortunate enough to have food on our table should, indeed, be grateful.
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” ~ Luciano Pavarotti
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf
“My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.” ~ Orson Welles
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” ~ Harriet van Horne
“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” ~ John Gunther
“Be able to set a table so that you feel like you’re dining, not just sitting and eating.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant
“There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.” ~ Yuan Mei