Feasts of Substance

By Cameron Bell 

I called upon my inner Gordon Ramsey; I stacked ingredients on top of each other to add height to the dish. I contrasted colors and textures, even adding vibrant red and orange sauces, not just for taste, but to add pizazz to the dish. An hour cooking. A half-hour plating. Bon Appetit!  Not quite. 

I wanted to savor the beauty of the dish before eating. The plate’s center was a tower of fluffy scrambled eggs, with green onions added for a dash of color. Surrounding the eggs were four crispy bacon strips converging to form a “teepee”, adorned with three triangular pieces of toast. I had created my most artistic dish ever, but remembered the words of my grandmother, my cooking teacher from the age of 5, “Food isn’t just there to look pretty.It’s there to be eaten, enjoyed, and to bring people together.” 

The lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen have become my recipe for life. Dress for the job you want — “People eat with their eyes too.” When I decided to run for the president of my Jack and Jill chapter, I did just that. I took the “power of presentation” seriously. I put on a suit, tie, and even completed my look with a lapel pin of the chapter crest. I dressed as if I were Barack Obama, ready to speak to a world audience. “Yes we CAM Jack and Jill” was the motto that I used in the speech that proved I was the best candidate, a speech that would inspire a host of new chapter projects. 

After I was elected president, I thought back to my breakfast dish. Did I just violate Grandy’s rule of the kitchen? Did I “just look pretty?” No, I concluded. I was elected because of the substance and flavor of my campaign, which led to a 50% increase in community service hours, and a change in the bylaws to allow more members opportunities to hold offices.

I had been so proud to show off my culinary prowess to my parents and siblings. They took pictures and claimed that “the dish was too pretty to eat.” They lied. My sister used her fork to destroy the “masterpiece.” The bacon broke, the eggs were split and the sauces were tainted. My parents and brother then followed, dividing the food recklessly onto their respective plates. At last, I caved to the peer pressure and joined in the destruction of my culinary creation. As I took my first bite, I was no longer disappointed that my dish was destroyed, but rather annoyed that I let the food get cold. I could only imagine how much better the bacon would’ve tasted if it were sizzling.  

 I have always loved food and appreciated how certain textures and flavors complement each other. This appreciation ignited my interest in cooking. Studying ingredients and their abilities to enhance each other, I saw parallels between cooking and scientific research. When I worked in a stem cell research lab a couple of summers ago,I realized cooking was like a lab experiment: if I follow the recipe, I’ll make something good. But I learned from my grandmother, that going off-recipe and adding ingredients — a dash of this, a pinch  of that — could benefit the dish as well. Similar to cooking “off recipe,” I have tried out different hobbies and experiences to make myself a better person and to see the world from new perspectives. I started out just adding engineering classes and progressed to traveling across the world, where I experienced new people and cultures. I even tried my hands at boxing, playing volleyball, applying for a trademark, and mentoring underclassmen at my school. From each experience, like different ingredients and flavors, I have broadened my lens. Anyone can follow a recipe, but a dish becomes special when it possesses an individuality that can’t easily be replicated.

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Cameron Bell, a freshman at Yale, is a graduate of Peoria High School.