I’ve come to learn just a small amount about cooking in the past few years. Still an absolute novice, I stick with simple recipes and a small number of ingredients. Nonetheless I’ve discovered a new appreciation for this transformative work in the kitchen. Long ago, I was presented with the gift of a cutting board from my friend and teacher, Barry Perlus. Accompanying the gift Barry penned a letter sharing a fairly intimate perspective on the experience of cooking, which for him was connected to the memory of his deceased wife. At the time, I enjoyed his letter and his writing but I could not relate to the cooking. Today, I reread this note and feel a renewed connection.
“The cutting board I work at everyday as I prepare meals for this little family was originally Judy’s, and over the years we prepared thousands of meals on it. It’s utterly plan and unassuming, just plain wood with no special figure or color. And yet it holds so much from our time together.
The kitchen is a special place. A place where raw materials are refined, combined, sometimes transformed by fire, to become food for ourselves and our guests. Preparing food can be practiced as an art with astounding subtlety and elegance, or with plainness and simplicity.
I used to think that it was an ephemeral performance – once the food was eaten the experience was over. In the ordinary sense that is true, but from years of experience a different view comes to light. The work of heart that joins the work of the hands and mind leaves a trace in all who participate. The cutting board in my kitchen, plain as it is, knows of this and reminds me each time I use it.
I hope that this gift, a cutting board of ash, maple, and walnut, divided by a strip of padouk, will serve you well in your kitchen.”
-Professor Barry Perlus, October 1996