The keys to creating a kitchen that makes cooking into a beautiful, spiritual experience.
Many of us see cooking as a chore, as an utter annoyance. It’s something that has to be done, but we’re usually unhappy about it. We’re usually cooking at the end of the day when we’re exhausted and weary, and would rather watch TV.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Cooking, at least on some days, can be so much more than a chore. Cooking can be a spiritual, sacred, soulful experience. It can be a way we connect to ourselves, our loved ones and our world.
“When I cook, I’m reminded of experiences that shaped me as a person,” said Nik Sharma, author of the forthcoming book Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food. Amanda Haas, author of The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook, exercises and meditates every day, but cooking is when she feels most connected to her true self.
Nicole Gulotta, author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry, uses cooking as a time for reflection. “Alone in the kitchen you can chop and stir with one part of your brain, while the other part wanders off. I sometimes write in my head, or think about creative things I don’t have time to focus on during the day.”
Cooking also helps Gulotta release the minutia and burdens of the day. “In the kitchen, there are no emails, no meetings, and no errands.” Cooking is equally grounding for Sharma. “I find certain movements like the kneading of soft, elastic dough to be a wonderful way to take my mind off the day’s events.”
For registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield, cooking, even quick meals, sparks positive emotions, such as gratitude. Because it allows her to nourish her family, who she loves with all her heart. And nourishing her family is a profound value of hers. “When we live our values, we are happier, and life feels more meaningful.”
Similarly, for Haas, cooking is an act of love. “From a very young age, cooking for others became my expression of love and generosity.” And this extends to herself, as well. “On Mother’s Day, I was home alone that evening, and made the best meal of my life for myself. It was a gift!”
Cooking can be a powerful mindful practice. The “hours melt away and you’re forced to focus on what’s right in front of you, and the act of staying in the present moment can be meditative and calming,” said Gulotta.
Cooking also goes beyond the present and provides a passage into the past: “When I cook the dishes that I grew up with, I find it particularly meaningful to trace back the steps and the history behind the ingredients and the techniques used in the recipe,” Sharma said. It is this history that connects us to our ancestors and reveals the experiences behind their decisions (like using salt to preserve food before refrigeration), he said.
The key to creating a kitchen that makes cooking into a beautiful, spiritual experience is setting it up as a space you want to be in all the time, said Haas, also author of the upcoming book The Vibrant Life. She suggested surrounding ourselves with objects that make us happy. For instance, when Haas buys flowers, they always go in her kitchen. She only keeps items on the counters that she always wants to look at—like her KitchenAid mixer and sons’ handmade pottery.
Sharma suggested making your kitchen into a space that reflects you and your personality and includes objects that energize you or remind you of positive experiences. Also, let your space reflect “what you aspire for in life and work,” he said. “In my case, it’s always been books and plants.”
Below you’ll find more suggestions for turning cooking into a meaningful, significant practice.
Keep only what you love. “Every time I pick up a knife or a pan, it’s an object I love, and it has helped make my kitchen a sacred space,” Haas said. In addition to several sharp knives and solid pans, she keeps a few other tools that make cooking easier and more enjoyable, including her microplane zester, citrus press and a thick wood cutting board.
Scritchfield, author of Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out-and Never Say Diet Again, stressed the importance of becoming a kitchen minimalist. She suggested donating gadgets you don’t need, clearing counter clutter, and purging your pantry and fridge of expired items.
Appeal to your senses. How do you want to feel when you’re cooking? What do you need to smell, see and hear to create those feelings, to savor that kind of experience? For instance, you might add pots of fresh herbs, a bowl with citrus fruit, and a lemon-scented candle, Scritchfield said. On most days Haas cooks in silence, but sometimes she’ll turn on uplifting music that makes her want to dance.
Also, focus on your cooking. “I fully engage in cooking using all my senses: the sound of the knife running through an onion, the sizzling of vegetables in a seasoned pan, the aromas that arise within the first few minutes, and of course the delicious taste of each joyful bite,” Scritchfield said.
Embrace experimentation. Scritchfield encouraged readers to let go of perfection and start seeing cooking as an experiment. This is a great way to bust out of a rut, Haas said. Allow yourself the space (and patience) to get curious and creative. Which can start with simply switching one spice or herb in your favorite recipe, she said.
Feature sacred photos. Fill your kitchen with photos of relatives who were passionate cooks, who loved to cook for your family, or who sparked your desire to cook. This is another way we can use cooking to get inspired and connect with our loved ones.
Cooking can easily become another dreaded task on your to-do list. But by making your kitchen into an oasis, filled with objects you love, cooking can become a meaningful, spiritual practice.