Hello! My name is Rebecca May Johnson, I am a writer and cook and this is my Substack. This week’s newsletter is about how it feels to be cooked for by other people and how a meal has a kind of poetics. I share the menus of three people who cooked for me last week, including a recipe for potato salad, and give my eating notes.
Other People’s Cooking
When someone else cooks me a meal that they have devised, it is like inhabiting a poem they have written. A meal has a distinct rhythm and form and pace, as well as stylistic qualities and the thrill of flavours brought into contact: a poetics. When I eat a meal that I have made, it can be difficult to really perceive it, because often I am still mentally and emotionally in the process of making it. When I cook it is difficult to gain distance from my own work and experience the meal as an aesthetic entity that is separate to me. Encountering the poetics of a meal that someone else has made for me can be a strange and intimate pleasure. I am touched by – I ingest! – the gestures of the cook. A meal is a poem where the writing emerges in real time and bears the ‘grain’ of the cook’s body and life (Roland Barthes, via Nuar Alsadir). In the heat of performing, in the curdling split of a sauce, in a flourish of seasoning, the cook cannot help but be unconcealed from themselves and from those present. It is for this reason that I am sometimes nervous when someone cooks for me for the first time; I will have read them in a new way by the end.