In Community, Culture, Food

The joy of shared experiences

By Luke Theaker, Executive Chef

As we approach Thanksgiving, I welcome the opportunity to cook a large meal during which my friends and family gather. I am so grateful to be able to participate in a tradition of gathering around delicious food for no other reason than to fellowship with loved ones and express gratitude for the immense blessings bestowed on us. Thanksgiving is special, the celebration is not about presents, resolutions, or patriotism; it is just food and family. Food should be the excuse to gather and share life, and serve as a backdrop to shared experiences.

One of my most memorable experiences was a few years ago when I had the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles to visit some close family. We were visiting to celebrate the birth of my niece to my sister-in-law (my wife’s twin sister), Rachael, and her husband, Henry. This was an amazing time of enjoying our newest family member, all while taking in the sights and sounds that L.A. has to offer.

Henry is Mexican American; his parents moved here from Mexico when he was a baby, many years ago. During our stay we had the opportunity to visit his family for dinner. When we arrived, the house was bursting at the seams with life and love. We were greeted by little children running and laughing around the legs of the taller adults, and our children immediately begged to join in fun. It was hours before we saw them again. Smells of crispy tortillas warming on the griddle and meat charring on the grill permeated our senses and I eagerly awaited the meal to come. Throughout the evening people ate amazing food, drank delicious drinks, and enjoyed the company of family and new friends.

This was a transformational experience for me. It clarified exactly what I wanted to do with my career and how I wanted communal dining to be integrated into that career. I wanted my food to enhance the experience of the people indulging in it, not to distract from their time of companionship. Through my research of food culture, I have seen this approach to food expressed in three places: Latin and Italian food cultures, and Thanksgiving. 

There was a tremendous lesson to be learned through this little family gathering that I experienced in L.A.; Cooking for me became a pursuit to recreate that experience that I had in L.A. Just like in that tiny house, filled with scampering children and mouthwatering bites, dining should be shared with people. Eating supplies our own bodies with nourishment, while dining allows the community to nourish both the body and soul. I am grateful that Beacon Hill values the need for both exquisite food and a thriving community that congregates for it.

Thanksgiving is also special this way. It embodies what environment chefs should desire to create in their restaurants. When this wonderful holiday is at its best, the community we gather around at Thanksgiving should always outshine even the most delicious food.

And as a chef, that’s a beautiful thing to be able to witness.

I am very grateful to be a part of your community this Thanksgiving. Whether you are celebrating I hope and pray you find moments of insightful conversation and uninhibited laughter, gathered with loved ones around delicious food. 

“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for water, air or food.”-Dean Ornish

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