For those that know me or perhaps have connected with me through my foodie blog, Cledos Kitchen, you know I love food and cooking. For me, food is something to be savored, shared, as well as is comforting to the spirit, mind, and body. Through a combination of observing my father’s love of cooking, and sharing many special moments over food and creating meals, I've developed a passion for food and cooking as well. My father appreciated the art of cooking and the science behind food. He taught me about depolarization during a moment of cutting onions: “Leeja, do you know why onions make you cry” he asked. “No”, I replied and so became a catered science lesson. On another occasion, he made meal prep a lesson in knife sharpening: “LEEJA, come here a sec, I want to show you how to sharpen a kitchen knife.” And so the experience began, and then we prepared dinner with properly sharpened knives.

Cooking, for me, means so much more than a way to nourish myself and others, it’s a space of connection and healing tied to the many moments I shared with my father. On this 11th anniversary of my Father’s passing, I’m dedicating this blog post to my father, William "Bill" Carter: his love for food, and the impact it’s had on me.

Chef Bill

My sisters and I often laugh at our memories of Dad as a stay-at-home father as it intersects with his passionate cooking. Whenever we take ourselves back to when dad was home, my older sister reminds me that we never had the typical after-school snacks like cookies or fruit roll-ups, but she remembers being greeted with freshly fried vegetable tempura. LOL! We always chuckle at this being what he served to a kindergartener. But that was daddy: you weren’t just to eat, and he wasn’t just going to cook - it was going to be a culinary experience and perhaps science, history or cultural lesson as well. My memories of him include a jazzy melody playing in the background, a cigarette hanging off his bottom lip while he whips up his next masterpiece. Breakfast was always a dressed up scrambled egg with dill, a touch of garlic, and whatever other magic he’d include that would have your tongue smiling with the start of the day. “Ha, What’s This Here”, my father jokingly exclaims as he grabs the bottle of Worcestershire sauce to craft another delicious concoction sure to have my sisters and I swoon. He never got tired of that joke.

I remember the first meal my father taught me to cook: linguini in marinara sauce. It was our weekend with him and for dinner that was to be the meal. “LEEJA” he called me into the kitchen in his stern voice. He pulled out his seasoned wok and step by step, we made a fresh marinara to dress our linguini.

Through him, I learned that cooking wasn’t just for eating food, but a musical and conversational affair to bring in souls, show love, and one to be tasted throughout the process. Cooking became one of several ways we bonded, loved, and communicated with each other. One memory that is still tough to hold was our goal to create a yummy cookook; about a year before he passed we started building a cookbook and began saving our recipes to create a magical book of rubs, marinades, and sauces. We both were so excited about this idea, and after he passed, just looking at the recipes hurt me to my core.

The Complexity of Grief

After my father passed, I didn’t cook much (or with the passion I once had). I merely cooked to eat. It hurt too much to attempt to access the joy and love in cooking I once had - I missed the love we created through food and creating meals was exposing the uneven areas of my healing as well as my avoidance of accepting the loss of my Dad. It was also triggering the confusion around his humanity - chef, father, friend, philosopher, musician, and addict. Cledos Kitchen is part of a journey to healing - it began with a random moment of pulling out a pan and cooking, and enjoying the process... and that being okay. At that moment, I also felt a sense of peace as though my father was with me more at that moment than ever before. It was born out of a moment where I became able to engage in an activity unique to my father and me, recognizing he’s with me - and this can be our time, still, to connect.

Thank you, daddy, for your perfectly imperfect love. Miss you and love you always - Leeja