“I think food, culture, people, and landscape are all absolutely inseparable”—Anthony Bourdain
Ok, full disclosure, I don’t have an Uncle Tony. For those that know me it an obvious nod to
the late Anthony Bourdain- a man who not only forever changed my relationship
with food and travel but was also instrumental in how I now experience those things. Say what you will about the man, but for me
he unlocked something inside that has sent me on a decade long journey of
leaning that everything you want understand about someone’s culture can be
learned by submersing yourself in their food, music, and surroundings. In short-how to be still, present and
quiet—how to receive the gift of knowledge.
Throughout this BLOG, “Uncle Tony”, will be used to reference my
teachers. Those with whom I have shared
a meal (some vicariously), heard their story, and have developed a deep
connection to not just the taste of the food but the experience, the
surroundings, the music, the conversation, the temperature, everything in that moment.
Why? For the last ten
years I have been on a very personal, introspective journey to not only know more
about myself but also my relationships–, how to create them, how to nurture
them, and most importantly how to learn from
them. I have always felt I have a lot to
offer, but my ignorance (specifically with other races/cultures) has held me
back from making deep, meaningful connections.
Fair warning, you are entering in the middle and you will see very early
on it’s messy, occasionally inappropriate, and wildly sporadic. Basically a glorious, slow motion train wreck,
set to a great soundtrack. But like
life, it’s a work in progress.
The Oyster—it was
late in the 1990’s, my then girlfriend (now wife) and I were on vacation in
Gulf Shores, AL. with her family. Each
year, usually in February, her Uncle Steve would rent a condo for the month and
invite friends and family down for a few days.
We were at the “oyster house” when the coupons came out for a free ½
dozen raw. (Side note-I can hear the
family laughing as they read…. You see, Uncle Steve was known for getting a good deal.
He had coupons for free oysters long after this particular restaurant had
stopped printing them. Much to the restaurants
chagrin there was no expiration date so year after year this is how the meal
When delivered to the table, in a stainless tray, on a bed of ice they just look like a slimy, gray mass, wrapped in a dirty shell. Included was an innocuous container of horseradish, ketchup, lemon wedges, and some saltines.
I remember looking around the packed dining room and seeing table after table gulping them down one after the other. How could this be? What was it that everyone enjoyed so? Even the people at my own table, downing oyster after oyster, did I know these people at all? Not wanting to be the unadventurous 20 something, I built up my (liquid) courage, grabbed the smallest one on the plate and down the hatch. It was cold, perfectly salted (naturally, from its own liquor), and firm yet somehow soft at the same time. My mind immediately shifted from what I thought an oyster was to what it truly is-for me, glorious! In that very moment, I learned two lessons that would forever change my life—never assume you know anything and who you experience things with can open your eyes to everything.
I learned a lot at that table that night and the subsequent years that followed. As I write this, I can see the dining room, hear the music, smell the ocean brine, and see and hear the people at the table with me that night. Sadly some have since crossed over, but the experience we shared will remain with me forever. Every time I’ve had an oyster since, I am immediately transported right back to that first time. Not only to remember the taste, but the people had that shared the experience with me, and how those experiences shaped our relationship.
Many years later, I had the opportunity to participate in my daughters first oyster experience (she was 4, it was cooked, char-grilled to be exact, raw is next, back off, all in good time) and I only hope our table created the same type of experience for her. I get that most readers are like dude, you ate an oyster, what’s the big deal. The deal is it was never just about the oyster.
Oyster’s ala Alabama
Jimi Hendrix-Are you Experienced-Loud, very loud.
1 dozen fresh, ice cold, in shell, Apalachicola Oysters
Mix horseradish with ketchup and add squeeze of lemon
Open oysters, add dot of sauce, and enjoy!