Hemelt: Cookbook brings people together

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If you are born around something special, it is easy not to realize it until you step away from it.

My experience with that deals with great food and the amazing bonding power of a shared meal.

My mother’s grandfather was born in Italy, and when he came to the United States, he brought with him a love of his home cuisine that has persisted with family members, continuing with my mother. Some of my favorite kitchen memories from my youth with mom involve her spending hours making red gravy (according to her, Italians say “gravy” and not “sauce”) from scratch that led to awesome dinner meals.

My mom’s version of the meal differed slightly from her mom’s, and when she taught my wife how to make it, my wife added a couple of details to make it her own.

Today, when I sit down to dinner and eat my wife’s spaghetti and red gravy with my son and daughter, it nourishes my soul to know we are sharing in something countless generations old that links my children with family members a half-world away.

Great food has a way of doing that. Thankfully, the Italian culture passed down through my mom honors that tradition. Only with children of my own do I fully appreciate such a family blessing.

Another food-related blessing I was quicker to realize can also be attributed to my great-grandfather from Italy, who made the courageous leap from the home he knew to the United States.

Instead of choosing to arrive and settle at one of the major Eastern seaports, he made his way to New Orleans.

That fateful decision allowed me to grow up in the Cajun Cuisine capital of the world, a place that spends an unhealthy (read: Delicious) amount of time on the lunch and dinner menu.

My dad, who is 61, has really taken to this in the last few years. When he comes to visit his grandchildren in the River Parishes, he always brings an ice chest full of frozen dinners he prepared in his home kitchen.

He is now a full-fledged “foodie,” someone who watches cooking programs, reads cooking magazines and meticulously scouts new restaurants to enjoy meals that often last more than two hours as he takes his time with each element.

Half of the fun of dad’s passion is sharing the details of his latest discovery.

He and his girlfriend spend many mornings cooking gigantic meals that easily feed 10 people, if only to try out something new and freeze the results for an actual time when they can share the bounty with others.

Those are the special bonds that come with shared meals, and is the driving force behind L’OBSERVATEUR’s Holiday Cookbook, which will be delivered to homes and available at newsstands Nov. 26 throughout the River Parishes.

We are again asking area cooks to send in their favorite recipes. Those who want to include a story about why the meal is special and/or a picture are welcomed to email stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.

Great food satisfies all of us, and great meals unite us to history and each other.

This year’s Holiday Cookbook promises, with your help, to keep that tradition alive.

Please include your name and town of residence with all submissions. Recipes must be received by Oct. 31. For more information, call 985-652-9545.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.