By Matthew Hennessey
It won’t surprise you to hear that my six-year-old wanted chocolate cupcakes at her birthday party. You may not have guessed that the job of making them fell to Daddy.
Oh, I suppose I could have gone to an upscale cupcake boutique on the Upper East Side, where we live. But have you been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? We’re supposed to be teaching our kids that food doesn’t grow in stores.
So my daughter and I made them together. It gave me a chance to show her that preparing food can be as satisfying—if not more so—as eating it.
I like cooking because I’m kind of good at it, but it also fulfills me in a manly kind of way. When I’m cooking for my family, I feel like I’m making something in my workshop. I don’t get too many opportunities to make stuff with tools.
In the film The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson included a scene of Jesus, the carpenter, building an ornate table. You could see the care he took; you sensed his pride of accomplishment in a job well done.
That scene was invented for the film. It doesn’t appear in the Gospels. A filmmaker, of course, has that prerogative. But Gibson didn’t depict John 21:12. In this passage, we are told that the risen Jesus actually made breakfast for the disciples. In his 1999 essay, “Did Jesus Cook?”, the Australian author Michael Symons surmised that generations of translators have distorted the meaning of the Greek word diakonia—frequently translated as “service” and source of the modern word “deacon”—so as to obscure its relationship to the preparation of food.
Jesus’ meals can seem to have been achieved by magic. No one was physically responsible. Accordingly, Jesus is typically depicted as a host, guest, server, and miracle worker, but not [as a] cook.
Symons sees evidence of a concerted effort by the Bible’s earliest interpreters to devalue the work of preparing and sharing meals. Even in the Food Network-era, people still tend to think of kitchen work as women’s work. But while it seems plausible that something has been lost in translation, I think it a stretch to infer a conspiracy.
More, it seems to me that the man who fed a crowd of thousands with loaves and fishes, and turned water into wine at Cana, not only loved feeding people, but found grace in the act of making a meal.
Cooking for someone is a nourishing, nurturing act. To some people (see Jamie Oliver), cooking is not just a job or an obligation, but a religion. Think about it: The counter top is a bit like an altar, the food is something like a sacrifice, and the preparation is highly ritualistic.
A thousand years ago, even a hundred years ago, a guy my age would have spent a good portion of the day working with his hands, doing tough-guy things. I’m sad to report that I spend no portion of my day doing tough guy things—zero.
Unless you think it takes a tough guy to make cupcakes with a six-year-old.