Cooking from the essence: Who we are is in what we eat

While good nutrition is certainly important, and the food that we eat influences our health, so does the essence of the cook who prepares it — an essence which not only affects the flavor of the food, but which also determines the overall mind-body-spirit reaction we have to it.

Cooking is an act of personal power, and eating allows our bodies to undergo a biochemical process that affects our moods, influences our behavior, and ultimately shapes our identity. In a sense, we are not only what we eat: We are who we eat.

Food expert Christina Pirello agrees and writes: “We run a risk of giving our destiny to any chef who claims to know how to cook a pot of rice. He or she is in charge of who we are and what we feel and how we behave. That may sound dramatic, but the truth is that whoever is cooking is in charge of the people we become.”

When we cook, just as when we eat, we are building relationships with ourselves and others; cooking and eating involve intimacy, vulnerability and trust, because emotions and thoughts are transmitted and received through food.

As a food lover, it should not be surprising that I enjoy watching cooking shows on television. One of my least favorite shows, however, involves shows that feature “Southern Cooking” hosted by those that give little recognition to the originators and inventors of the cuisine, and how it was born in the first place.

Importantly, the lack of recognition that these television hosts give toward the skill and knowledge of being able to transmit love and care through food — in spite of living in a deeply hostile and oppressive environment — is one of the deepest insults to the ancestors who created soul food.

Next time you go to a restaurant, just remember: You are eating the essence of the cook who is preparing your food. Next time you cook for yourself: Just remember you are eating your own essence — an essence that not only affects the flavor of our food, but which will determine your overall mind-body-spirit reaction to it.

Cook for your children, and cook for your partners. Most importantly, cook from your essence — cook from your soul!


Tips for cooking from the essence:

  • Create an ambience: Make sure the kitchen and environment is clean.
  • Use aromatherapy to ignite emotions in yourself: Light incense or scented candles.
  • Turn on the music! Play music that enlightens the spirit and uplifts the soul.
  • Focus on your hands: The hands are the instruments of the soul, so send your thoughts to them and what you want them to create.
  • Speak to the food while preparing it: Words are powerful. Speak to your food as you touch and prepare it!
  • Experiment with different spices (turmeric is an Indian spice proven to have anti-inflammatory properties) and textures (try avocado): Let yourself be a channel for your own essence!
  • Romance, romance, romance! Let your food inspire romance in you — fall in love while you’re cooking!


Here is a tangy, spicy and sweet dish that will touch the palate and spirit-creating vibrations that are sure to stir up emotions and move the spirit! Pair this dish with a nice Pinot Grigio, and watch the romantic sparks fly!


Chicken Picata and Spaghetti with Spinach Pesto

Ingredients for the chicken:

2-3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tin of regular unseasoned bread crumbs

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of dry white wine

2 shallots or 1/2 Vidalia onion (thinly sliced)

2 lemons

2 tablespoons of capers

2 tablespoons of pitted green olives with pimento

1 tablespoon of pitted black olives

2 teaspoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of butter

Lemon pepper

Granulated garlic powder

Granulated onion powder

1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano

Handful of fresh basil

Saran wrap


Directions for the chicken:

Fold each chicken breast in between a piece of Saran wrap, then pound and flatten it with a mallet or meat tenderizer. (Hint: the purpose of the Saran wrap is to minimize mess and ensure food safety.)

After each piece of chicken is flattened, season each one liberally with lemon pepper and the other granulated seasonings, coat them with bread crumbs and set aside.

Next, heat a large non-stick frying pan with about two tablespoons of olive oil on high heat. When the oil is hot, place each piece of chicken into the pan and fry lightly for about two minutes on each side — remove each piece after frying, and place on a separate plate with a paper towel covering it for drainage.

To the frying pan add the butter and simmer until butter is melted, then add the wine and stir for about three minutes on medium heat. Next, add the olives (and juice) and capers — keep stirring on medium to low heat. Then add a pinch of white sugar, and keep stirring. As the sauce thickens, you may need to add a little chicken stock or water to thin it out; you want to have enough sauce left to return the chicken to the pan for simmering.

After the sauce and wine have reduced, return the chicken to the pan and cover on low heat. Let the chicken simmer for about 15 minutes, and then add the onions and basil. The entire dish will need to simmer for about 25 minutes.

Next, prepare the spinach pesto:


Ingredients for pesto:

1 handful of fresh Italian parsley

1 handful of fresh cilantro

1 handful of fresh basil

1 handful of fresh or frozen baby leaf spinach

1 handful of pine nuts or chopped walnuts

1/2 cup of pitted green olives in juice

2 cloves of garlic

1 squeezed lemon

2-3 Serrano peppers

A dabble of honey


Directions for the pesto:

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Set aside in the fridge and keep cool.

Cook one pound of spaghetti in olive oil and salt. When the pasta is ready (non-al dente), toss it with two tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup of pesto.

Serve the pasta immediately and garnish with chopped Italian parsley.


Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.