Returning from the farmer's market on Sunday, I felt a moment of great abundance as I laid out the booty from my expedition. A kitchen glows when fresh produce arrives. It is a moment of great anticipation.
I'd brought my camera with me to the market, hoping to find an expression of the spring season at its peak. Artichokes, asparagus, strawberries, and peas screamed out to me that the seasons had emphatically changed. They teased me with their colors and shapes. Yet, the one photo that said it all had eluded me. It just wasn't there.
Later in the day, I decided to make carciofi alla romana, Roman Artichokes, with my collection of tasty thistles. In a quiet moment of collection, I laid out the vegetables, preparing myself for the task at hand. A lovely still life formed, something that cannot be contrived in the studio. Sometimes it just happens. There before me was what, to me, the expression of spring—artichokes awaiting their cleaning and transformation into a timeless and glorious dish.
The culinary world calls it mise en place, the placement, preparation, and organization of ingredients before cooking begins. It is a time when the cook, more than anything else, organizes thought and intentions. Sloppy preparation results is stress, and a dish that is muddied in concept and execution. Mise en place is a sacred time where the ingredients are first introduced to one another—a communion of essence, color, flavor, and nutrition.
In the past I'd never thought to photograph my own cooking process. But, the artichokes were too beautiful to resist. Within minutes they'd be cleaned and transformed. But, for a peaceful moment they were there to be appreciated for what they were.