Here’s The Thing

by Bob Woolsey

illustration by Justin Longoz
illustration by Justin Longoz

There is a time in any home-cook’s life that changes everything. They pass beyond that unassuming amateur who occasionally throws together impromptu meals and become a truly seasoned home-chef. Yes, I’m speaking of that trial of all home-cooking trials: the turkey dinner. And thanks to Thanksgiving’s pending proximity, many more will be welcomed to the ranks this month.

Food is pretty important to me. Not just in the sense that I need food to live, but because food helps me connect with my fellow human beings. Especially the ones I’ve grown up with and love the most, despite their intimate knowledge of my most embarrassing moments in life. As far back as I can remember my family has been happiest when it’s been together and eating. I grew up in a house where my mum cooked dinner every night — a somewhat lost cultural cornerstone in today’s world.

I have a vivid memory of a school field trip when I was about 5 or 6. At lunch, I looked around at what everyone was eating and I saw my lunch was by far the best. At that moment, I knew my mum loved me more than all the other kid’s mothers.

Upon moving to Vancouver, I soon found that I lived in one of the greatest food cities in the world. Once I got over my northern boy fear of sushi, my culinary tastes expanded exponentially. My only problem was the limited financial capacity of my paycheques. Dilemma. After exhausting the amount of dollar pizza one man can (or should) eat, I bought some cookbooks and a subscription to the Food Network.

In the beginning, my food wasn’t great. Even now, I go a little off track when I toss aside the cookbooks and pretend I’m on an episode of Chopped but that’s the reward of cooking. It’s just like art. It’s a form of communication between people that doesn’t require words. It’s primal. We all need to eat but to have an experience of a great meal is one of the purest pleasures there is.

So you can see that I’ve put quite a bit of thought into this whole food thing. Which is the reason why I was so nervous when tasked with cooking my very first turkey feast for my family a couple years ago. If anyone reading this is going through this right of passage this year, I have one piece of advice for you: prepare. There’s more than one way to cook a turkey and finding your signature way is part of the process.

My personal guru through this first trial was Jamie Oliver. I studied his holiday recipes and practiced on smaller birds as the big meal approached. That year, I nailed the turkey, I cooked all different kinds of vegetables and, yes, I even departed from a few family traditions in favour of my own ideas. I had graduated from the proverbial kid’s table of life, which brings me to my second piece of advice for any aspiring turkey cookers: get the best ingredients you can.

In addition to being a hub of great restaurants, Vancouver also boasts a network of local farmers, butchers, bakers, and other providers of top-notch ingredients that will provide you with what you need. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-intolerant, or any other form of dietary specific kind of person, this is your culinary paradise.

Here’s the thing about food: no matter what you’re eating, eat the best of it. Not the most expensive or the one with the celebrity endorsement but what’s local, fresh, and full of love. When you think about all the personal love that goes into great ingredients, it’s amazing. The fact that whatever is created will be gone by the night’s end adds another special element to it. Like all the best things in life, the experience of a meal is fleeting. It’s no mistake that every culture has holidays that include and, in fact, revolve around food. If you really want to get to know someone, eat with them.