Chef Dan Barber Talks Food, Comfort, and Love
“My mother died when I was 4 years old, so my dad did some cooking for me, but it was incredibly rare. I think the phrase, 'I can’t cook; I can’t even boil water,' came from someone watching my dad at the stove. He did, however, make a heroic effort with scrambled eggs. I never asked him why scrambled eggs, but I think he felt a particular absence of my mother at breakfast more so than any other meal.
He would sort of compensate with scrambled eggs. I say 'sort of' because the scrambled eggs were cracked into this crazy hot iron cast pan. I actually still have the pan. He swished them around and overcooked them by many minutes. If there was salt, I don’t remember it. That was our Saturday morning thing: really dry, really overcooked scrambled eggs. At that point in the 70’s, if I’d had any other scrambled eggs, they were at a buffet and not much different from my dad’s, so that was scrambled eggs for me.
When I was 12, I came down with a really bad bout of strep throat, the kind where you can hardly swallow. My Aunt Toby was taking care of me because my dad traveled a lot. One morning, when I’d gotten to the point where I could eat again, she was making scrambled eggs for me. I remember watching in the kitchen as she very gently whisked these eggs over a double boiler. There was softly simmering water, and she was whip-whip-whipping in this bowl over the water. It was frothy and amazing to watch.
I’ll never forget the taste of those eggs. First of all, they had salt. Second, they were like clouds. With the way strep throat burns, I remember the feeling of them sliding down my throat; they were like salve. It stopped me cold. Forget eggs, I had never had anything like this. It was one of those moments that will never leave you, those Ratatouille moments that you go back to forever. I immediately understood the power of food."
We were all so taken in by Dan’s remembering, we had to ask if this moment was the catalyst for his career.
“I don’t think I said to myself I want to do that for my life, but it probably set a course for me that I didn’t veer from. It was the taste of the food, but also the comfort. When you’re a kid and you’re sick and you don’t have a mother, your father is not around, then you’re sitting there with this plate of love, it is literally healing. My memory around this moment, and this food, is of healing and love, all wrapped up in scrambled eggs. So here I am in my life, trying to replicate that moment for everyone.”
Photo credit: Sincerely Media/Unsplash