Lights, Camera, Cooking! A Father Son Journey
The smell, vivid, and strong. I know what it is before I walk onto the stage. Rounding the corner I see the different colors and shapes jump out at me. The green, the orange, the red, and the glossy brown glaze. I feel my mouth getting wet with saliva as I inhale the delicious aroma. My legs get weak and I just can’t wait to shovel the food into my mouth. The green beans, the tomatoes, the steak, the carrots, and the chicken. The smoky aroma of the mesquite charcoal makes its way to the tip of my nose and I feel like I’m floating, the smell carrying me to my wonderful fate as I wallow in the amazing food. Then, I wake up.
“My fine, fine son, Austin William Montier!” I hear as my eyes and ears start to emerge from my amazing food dream and back to reality. My dad, Juan Montier, introduces me as I walk onto the stage. It is a large black stage with carpet. There is a tall table draped with a long black cloth. On the table is a large arrangement of vegetables and meats. I see the roaring flame under the burner and the incredibly large crowd. The smile slowly drops from my face as I start to get really nervous and scared.
I started cooking with my dad when I was about two years old. He taught me, and as my knowledge of cooking expanded, I too taught him. We taste each other's creations and critique them, most of the time his being better. Regardless, cooking with my dad has brought us closer together and given us a way to communicate through the arts.
My dad is a local celebrity chef and for many years he was invited to go to Centennial Olympic Park and do an outside cooking demonstration. This time though, it was very special. It was my birthday; my tenth birthday. Everyone knows that a tenth birthday is one of the most important in a kid’s life. I was having one of the best birthdays spending it with my dad. At that time, many of my friends did not have the best relationship with their dad and now I realize that my relationship might not be as strong if we had never cooked together.
I look out into the crowd and start to see some familiar faces. My dad proceeds with the instructions explaining blanching and shocking green beans. He states his number one cooking rule, “Add this combination to anything to enhance the flavor of your dish: salt, pepper, an herb and a spice.” He said this in a slight melodic tone. He asked the crowd to repeat it. He saw me standing off to the side with a fake smile. He knew what was going on. Immediately, he pulled me in. I felt the warmth of his body and his big hands as he wrapped me up in a big, loving bear hug. Sounds of “Ooo” and “Aww” came from the crowd as they could clearly see the father son bond between us. I proceed to season the vegetables with him right at my back reminding me what to do. I feel a sense of security and love.
All my prior cooking knowledge floods my brain as it all comes back to me in a flash. I start to get more comfortable and maybe even a little cocky. I could do things that the pros would do. Flipping the food out of the bowl and mixing the liquids with lighting fast speed. I cooked with a level of expertise that most adults did not have. I stopped for a second and saw the mesmerized faces of the crowd. They were genuinely impressed with my ability.
The time finally came. I could tell that everyone was ready to eat. We promised them that we would let them have a taste of the food after we finished cooking it. My father and I had a dynamic that could not be matched by anyone. We set up a two-man food line where we both placed the food methodically on the clear plastic plates. I would place the green beans in a spiral staircase like design, then put the beautiful tomatoes on the plate, and then hand it to my dad where he would put the final touch on the plate. He sliced steak and chicken checking it to see how well it was cooked. He gave a satisfied nod and started to place the beautifully cooked meat on the plate. When we were done, the plate looked like a meal out of a dream. Colors overwhelming the eye matched with an aroma that made the nose plunge into a food coma.
We pumped out the delightful plates, and eventually everyone in the crowd had a plate. They all waited as if all at the same time, they took the first bite. Like cartoon characters, their eyes widened as they looked down at the plate anticipating the next bite. Roaring sounds of “Mmm” and “Oh my gosh” spread through the mass of people. My dad and I locked eyes as if we were reading each other’s mind; we gave one another the same satisfactory smile with his smile spreading to his ears.
I didn’t know it then, but that day was going to be one of the most important days of my life. During this time I strengthened my bond with my dad. It taught me that investing yourself to develop a strong relationship can stand the test of time. My dad and I still have a very strong relationship as we continue to cook together. The bond that we built through his taking time to invest in me, teach me, and share with me will continue to impact my life. I plan to use these lessons to one day develop as strong a relationship with my child.
Austin William Montier