You can say that I was meant to be a cook - it was something I was “destined” to be. My name, Yia, when translated in my native language (Hmong) literally means “iron skillet or frying pan”. It was the name that was given to me by my great uncle. Food has been a large part of my life and no matter what I’ve done in life I’ve always come back to the dinner table as a gauge for understanding my world view.
While I was in college we loved making large meals for the guys in our community. My favorite memories were of those nights that we would gather around a table full of meat and potatoes. Each of us would invite other guys we know over for dinner. Although many of us would begin the evening as strangers, we would end as friends after sitting at the table together.
On the table would be a cornucopia of different cuts of grilled meats, some kind of starch dish, more than enough grilled veggies and cups full of the cheapest lemonade you can buy (this was college after all). We would eat and talk late into the night as we became full on the bountiful food before us. Amidst much laughter, the food on the table would grow cold. As the night wore on, we would begin to nibble on the leftovers, which became known as “second dinner” to us.
During those meals, it didn’t matter where we stood ethnically; it wasn’t about our politics, our political beliefs, or even which football team we called our own. That night, we were just a group of men, at first strangers and as the night wore on, friends. Barriers were broken down and we shared a night of good food and great conversations. No matter what type of stresses we carried, on those nights, we ate like kings at the table together.
I firmly believe that food has the ability to bring everyone together. I’ve heard it stated that when people gather to eat, the food is the second most important thing on the table. The most important is the conversation and relationship that’s being cultivated. In other words food is the catalyst to great conversations that can develop to greater relationships.