Sombremesa: (n.) The time spent around the table
after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you
shared the meal with; time to digest and
savor food and friendship.
Every happy memory of my life with my family has either preceded, involved, or followed an experience with food. There’s rarely been a time in my life when my family and I have not had some beautiful comradery that has been eclipsed by an eating experience. Whenever we visit a new city or state we immediately look for places to eat and a new place that we can cherish and hold a sense of love and fellowship, even if the food is horrible, we still find a way to make that experience enjoyable, simply by our own attitude and familial connection. The experience of eating isn’t always dictated by the food itself but that communal love that is found in the act of breaking bread.
My dad is Cuban and as with most latin cultures, food is a love language. My abuela would practically live in the kitchen from my memories of visiting her. Making food for her family was an extension of love and devotion, it’s a dedication to that person by putting time and effort into making good food. My mom, a pastor’s kid, remembers the protocol in welcoming in a new family or visitor to the community by having them over for dinner. This gesture has translated into our family. Our home always has been, always will be, a private sphere, so our means of getting to know a new member in church or meeting with old friends is taking them out to eat.
Sharing a meal with someone is a very intimate act. Breaking bread with someone is that one act that merges personal and formal spheres that is a bridge to greater connection. First dates, business lunches, get together with friends, meeting with family often happen over food.
Both my parents have an innate love for food that they’ve instilled in me and my sister. When we cook together we’re sharing something that is more than just food and there’s a clear distinction in the taste of each of the dishes that we cook. My mom makes soul food, its what she does best, the dishes she makes are what you’re drawn to for comfort; my dad is the crazy chef, whose dishes are dense in flavor and spice so that they settle inside you. Neither of my parents could ever cross over and make a dish that is a signature of the other; the identity and, dare I say, character, of the food is dictated by the person who makes it.
My father however has a superiority when it comes to food, it will make or break his day and does not handle food lightly. Indeed many of the intense gastronomic experiences I had were through my father. I remember my dad when he went on a spree of baking Biscotti and for two days the entire counter island was dusted with flour with me floating in and out of the kitchen as my father made the cookies, telling me about the name Biscotti (twice baked). As I grew up, one steady ritual was sabbath breakfast. It wasn’t anything structured or planned but a type of tapas, he’d make an olive oil marinade for avocado, and lay out toast, cheese, jam, or anything that he could find and make a spread out of it. All his women (my mom, sister and I) would come downstairs and he’d make our coffee, and make our toast, asking what we wanted, all with a great intensity as though this were the most important thing that could be done. In these moments we’d settle in the kitchen, talking, laughing and discussing till it was time for us to get ready. It’s a very blessed time.
Most of all, my family appreciate good food as much as we enjoy making good food. The four of us go out to eat a lot, we have stand by resturaunt’s that have become second homes to us to the point of where we know the names of the waiters, the managers and their families, it’s a steady source of comfort. We also find a sense of adventure in finding new places to eat, looking through local spots where we can simply be together over great food.
I have been so infinitely blessed to have been raised in a laughing family. It’s who we are. But this quality is brought to a summit when we’re eating out together and can give you multiple occasions when leaving a restaurant where we’ve overheard “man that’s a happy family”. My family are the people who eat and then settle for two or three hours; eating out isn’t just something we do, it’s something we experience.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to photographing food, it’s not only capturing the aesthetic pleasure good food brings me, but it’s a commemoration of that moment, that day, that meal, where I got to have that intimate moment with the people I love the most.