The Food Lover’s Companion

The Food Lover’s Companion proclaims to include comprehensive definitions of over 4,000 food, wine and culinary terms. At over 700 pages long, it’s a compact reference book that spans the entire spectrum of taste, from plain water to the complex makeup of rare cheese.

The Food Lover's CompanionFor our home, the Food Lover’s Companion is a pre-children experiment in chance. Kerrie and I, buoyed by a love of food-based television programming and encouraged by several food magazine subscriptions, developed a game to accompany the Food Lover’s Companion – a game that ultimately gave us an excuse to read the reference book, as our normal cooking habits did not often require the definition or use of rare ingredients.

The game was played like this.

Kerrie would begin by naming a food. Any food. It could be general, like “beans” or “pasta” – responses that naturally gave a much wider chance of continuation – or very specific, like “Gorgonzola” or “pinto.” I would read the description aloud – an act that could try my patience with the epicurean language, especially in those cases of long, general descriptions – and Kerrie would choose one of the cross-referenced words within. In the rare case another term wasn’t cross-referenced, we would start again.

This little ritual began during a time of sleeplessness and continued for a year or so. I was working late nights – the relay center closed at 1 AM, and I often didn’t make it home until 2 AM – and on my nights off I would typically stay up much later than Kerrie.

Every few weeks, when Kerrie needed to fall asleep, we’d pull out the Food Lover’s Companion and start sifting through the descriptions. We’d slowly learn a little more about food, developing a keen sense of which terms would profit in terms of available cross-references, thus keeping the game afloat. Eventually, Kerrie would get tired and I would continue on with my night.

The act has since been abandoned. The Food Lover’s Companion now sits in the kitchen, where it probably – no, definitely – belongs. I no longer work late, te go to bed at about the same time each night, and a 16-month old toddler (not to mention a blossoming pregnancy) has rendered us a tired mess by about 9:30 PM.

In other words, getting to sleep is no longer a problem.

Still, the allure of that little white book still captures my attention. I still open it up now and then at work (I have a copy that was handed down to me from a co-worker for use with a handful of restaurant accounts) and marvel at the complexity of food – the miles of descriptions and backgrounds and cultural ties, the thousands of preparations, the amazing array of choice that forces havoc on the eternal question, “What should I eat?”

It’s no bigger than a travel bible; no thicker than a pocket dictionary. Yet, it holds the entire history of food. Term by term. Each linking to the next. Until finally, you arrive at a dead end, and you can sit back with awe at the path you took to get there and wonder, of all things, how anyone could have discovered this rare food, this odd cheese, this strain of wine, and marvel at the chance that led to some random person tasting it and proclaiming it to be good.

The chance of discovery that, ultimately, leads to the choices in taste we are allowed to make each day.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 16th, 2008