It is not a place of grace and order, my kitchen. Though I am fond of it. Knowing where the biscuits are likely to be found (top left), an awareness of the dates and dried apricots (in the murky darkness of the bottom shelf, right corner), the vacated spice rack (what’s it doing there… the tenants prefer squatting next to the oil and vinegar, by the stove!). And the solid reassuring presence of the mortar and pestle (got a whole blog on that!)
It’s the comfort of familiarity. The resident foodstuffs of my kitchen live in a kind of commune, an open society where newcomers are welcome.
But a place of elegant simplicity? No. No, it’s a bit of a mess, even if I do take a stubborn bachelor-pride in knowing where things are. Except the corkscrew. Goes everywhere, never stays in once place, him. Corks have been unstoppered in other, messier ways.
Other peoples’ kitchens, I know, are spotless showrooms of order. Condiment condominiums, gated communities of pulses and grains, each labelled in pretty cursive lettering. No one moves in to that neighbourhood without adopting the community’s aesthetic. And the truth is… I really admire the tidiness of a kitchen. In this, my own digs are lacking, I admit.
But it is not really tidiness that I aspire to, and definitely not a cold sanitary regime of organization depicted in a home improvement magazine: this could be your life! (no, thanks). It’s something more natural: sparseness, simplicity, but character.
Enter wabi sabi, a Japanese aesthetic of understated elegance. Use it to arrange flowers, interpret music, prepare and present food, design your garden, etc. A curious term with a long history acquired through centuries of cultural migration: 1) “the acceptance of transience or imperfection” (like). 2) “a sense of serene melancholy and spiritual longing” (meh…). 3) “flawed beauty” (intriguing) 4) “a means whereby students can learn to live life through the senses and better engage in life as it happens, rather than be caught up in unnecessary thoughts” (whoa, heavy). Or again, much more artfully put:
“Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.“ (more of this…)
So the idea here, dear kitchen, is to cultivate an acceptance of your imperfections, your quirks, the impermanence of your flavours and ingredients. And yes, to tidy up, practice simplicity, frugality. Not get too attached to the renos. And to call that beauty.
We’ll see how that goes. Japan in 6 weeks, and counting…
In case you’re wondering, this blog has little to do with my kitchen… it’s all about the corkscrew.
These images are all part of a unique foodie book project.
Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board is the story of Chef Avi Sternberg‘s journey as a foreigner through the hard knock school of Kaiseki cuisine, the hierarchy of the kitchen, and life as a Westerner in Japan.