I watched as he laid the ingredients out on the counter. I couldn’t wait for the final result to be pulled from the oven. Warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. My dad was known for many things in our small community when I was growing up and one of those things was his homemade chocolate chip cookies. They were a treat we didn’t get all the time so they were special to us every time he decided to make a batch.
I enjoyed watching him add the ingredients and was always impressed how he could do it all from memory. Never completely measuring things. A dash of vanilla, a handful of chocolate chips, and a smattering of chopped nuts. He used eyeball measurements and the feel of what he was going for to guide him until he felt he had enough. It was a recipe he had known for years, never varying except to remove chocolate chips for small batches because my brother didn’t like chocolate. I know, I think it’s crazy as well, what child of any age doesn’t like chocolate?
When my grandma would have a craft show she’d ask my dad to make a batch of his cookies and would tell everyone Bob is making his famous chocolate chip cookies. Birthday parties for the family would have my dad’s cookies. If my dad had a stressful week at work he’d make a batch to de-stress. My dad’s cookies were a staple at most celebrations.
For many years he kept the recipe from me. Not because he wanted to, but he wanted to make sure I was ready for it. Once he finally passed it along, I was excited to give it a try but realized I may still have not been ready. It took me many tries to get the final product even close to what his were like. Even once I got it close there would be times the cookies would come out of the oven as if they melted across the cookie sheet. Other tries created burnt bottoms and other times, doughy centers. The cookies were finicky and trying to figure out what mistakes I made during the process often felt fruitless.
This isn’t a post about my dad’s recipe or his cookies. This is about why I love cooking and why I’ve refocused on trying to become a better cooker man. My dad. He influenced my experiences in life both in and out of the kitchen, but the more I think back about watching him in the kitchen I realize how much my journey right now mirrors his. He showed me you didn’t need to be a trained chef or a snooty foodie to enjoy food. What he showed me was how enjoying the process of cooking, preparing food for those you love, and cooking what you enjoyed eating was reason enough to spend time in the kitchen.
Through all the years watching my dad hand mix his cookie dough and bugging him for the recipe, I would always ask what the secrets were. And every time he would say, “Love is the secret ingredient.” I’d scoff at his response and keep badgering. He’d say the same thing and keep stirring.
After all these years I finally understand what he meant. You can have the finest ingredients, best tools, and all the knowledge but if you don’t have love, passion, and desire for what you’re doing the results won’t be there. His secret ingredient was love. Love for the process, love for the results, and ultimately love for those he was making the cookies for. I have found that as I allowed myself to fall in love with cooking, that love transfers to those I cook for. And for this life lesson I thank my father. It may have taken me 40 plus years to finally understand but it’s the process we must embrace to make sure we are always learning. Thanks Dad for always pushing me to be the best me I could be and showing me how to be a great dad for my son.
Happy Father’s Day!