Originally posted on Tor.com:
In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!
I blame my mother.
On a cold Sunday afternoon in Westport, Connecticut, ice crusting my pink striped one-piece snow suit, I walked into the house after hours of building igloos with my three older brothers, desperate for a cup of hot chocolate to thaw me out. As I walked in the house I smelled something I had never smelled before. It was complex, meaty, and rich and pricked my senses alive. I padded into the kitchen and watched as my mother pulled out a huge red oval pot from the oven. She didn’t notice me watching her intently as she lifted the lid, letting even more of the delicious aroma into the kitchen. My mouth was watering. She slowly took something brown out of the pot that I recognized as meat. She blew it to cool it then tasted it; the expression on her face was one of pure radiant joy.
“I wanna try, Momma”
She turned and looked at me standing in the corner near the highchair I had recently outgrown and smiled her beautiful smile. She took another piece of meat, blowing on it as she crossed the kitchen. She kneeled and hand fed me the best thing I had ever put in my mouth up to that point in my life.
“Your first boeuf bourguignon, Chubby.”
I was three years old and that day my love affair with cooking began.
Cooking has taken me through love and life, through heartaches and joys, holidays and vacations. I find cooking to be the most therapeutic exercise on the planet. When I cook I am free. I am creative. I am master of my universe, the kitchen.
When I bought my new house last year the first thing I did was rip out four rooms to build my dream kitchen. It is there that I am an alchemist, a magician, a sorceress. I pickle, I brine, I roast and carve, I bake, I roll, I knead and sauté. I go on rampages of smoking meats and fish, compete with myself to make the best damned banana bread in the history of banana breads and I wipe and clean and sharpen my knives and all is good and peaceful in my world.
Cooking is my sanity, my joy and my way of showing the people that I love that I appreciate them. I have no children, so my friends are the recipients of my maternal love. When I cook homemade meals for them, when the soufflé turns out perfectly, I feel that anything else … any negative minutia of life cannot affect me, I am at peace.
Over the years my passion for cooking has taken me to Italy to study mead making with monks, to France to learn classic sauces next to the great Roger Vergier, to study Thanksgiving menus with Roger Pigozzi at the Biltmore in downtown LA and to take soba noodle classes in the San Fernando Valley. I have studied sushi making and obsessed over piecrusts. I have gorged on cooking shows when down with the flu. I have developed deep dislikes of certain cooking show hosts and pure affection for others. I have even watched Guy Fieri out of complete desperation on a flight from LA to Denver when there was nothing else on and I had forgotten my book. I read cookbooks as if they were novels, devouring each recipe and imagining making them in my mind.
I once challenged myself to make an entire 25 course Indian meal. It was stupendously difficult and entirely edible and it was my very first effort to cook Indian cuisine. I felt a sense of accomplishment that left me mystified; I mean, it’s just a meal, right? No! It’s a challenge, a way to spark your curiosity and heart and if you fail you try again and again until that curry is as good as the one you had in London last year.
I have a feel for spices, an instinct for when a sauce is done. I love making perfect vinaigrette and emulsifying it until it is as thick as a homemade mayonnaise and coming as close to breaking it as possible so it is creamy the way I like it. I love the fierce concentration, the mathematical necessity of baking and the wing-it freestyling of braises, stocks, and stews.
I once booked a trip to Morocco just so I could visit the famed spice markets. My suitcases smelled of turmeric and cardamom for months after. I visited Italy twice during truffle season and once just because there was a man reputed to sell the best branzino in the world and I paired it with a trip to Sardinia so I could have pasta with sea urchin, one of my favorite dishes.
I am obsessed I admit it. Williams-Sonoma catalogues are pornography to me. Some gals like Vogue and Health and Fitness magazines. Not me: give me my subscriptions to Saveur and Cook’s Illustrated any day over such fare. Recently I was trying to spatchcock a chicken for grilling and my poultry shears failed me. I threw them in the trash bin and muttered about crappy quality and such. The man in my life immediately went on Amazon and ordered me a fine new pair. Now that’s love—and a far more appreciated gift than clothes or jewelry.
Last summer I embarked on taking my cooking to the next level. I filmed a cooking show called Sunday Suppers. When I thought about my 30+ year career as an actress, my work running my non profit, my voiceover career and my writing life, I was left with a conundrum: What do I love the most?
When I was truly honest with myself, when I really dug down deep, I realized that I really love to cook. It affects all of the rest of my jobs by setting me free to think and imagine. I love to research and play in the kitchen. I adore getting my hands dirty and inventing, making mistakes and learning. Cooking feeds all of my other creative endeavors by being the one and only thing that I have complete and utter control over.
Luckily I can cook anytime I have free time and I do. I will continue to cook for my loved ones and I will continue to learn and grow as a chef. At the end of the day I know cooking is a hobby, but my oh my, what a joyous and fulfilling hobby it is.
Claudia Christian and her mother in the kitchen
Claudia Christian has been an actress in TV and film since 1983 starring in dozens of films and the Hugo award winning science fiction series Babylon 5. She voices many of the top games in the world including Skyrim, Guild Wars 2, Halo, World of Warcraft and Fallout 4. She runs the non-profit C 3 Foundation, which helps people suffering from AUD. She is the top advocate for The Sinclair Method and has made a documentary about the treatment and the people she has put on it called One Little Pill. Claudia is the co-author (along with Morgan Grant Buchanan) of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, available June 28th from Tor Books. She resides in Los Angeles.