The word challenge comes from the late 13c French chalonge meaning "a false or defamatory statement". Its meaning as "a calling to fight" is from the 1520s and its most modern use, challenged as a euphemism for "disabled" dates from 1985.
In the case of Josée's challenge, however, the following definition is the appropriate one: "A difficult task, especially one that the person making the attempt finds more enjoyable because of that difficulty." Difficult it was, I can assure you but enjoy she did and grateful I am that she took me along for the ride.
My wife is an amazing person as many of you may have already surmised. She is a woman who has persued excellence in everything she has taken on. She has also had the drive and zeal to reinvent herself when the need arose. Just consider her segue from a high level nurse in cardiology research at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital, to fulltime motherhood, to cooking school owner/instructor, to Bailli of the Bermuda Chapter of the Chaîne de Rôtisseurs, the largest food and wine organisation in the world, and finally to Member of the International Board of the Chaîne in Paris. I stand in admiration.
It must be said, however, that her achievements in the world of food and wine cannot be attributed to pure happenstance. Josée has cooking in the blood; her brother was a chef and Josée's mother and sister, although not professionals, can certainly hold their own in the kitchen and at a very high standard at that.
Many among you have asked how and why Josée came to burden herself with the 30/30/30 Food Challenge. The how is simple. Matt Cutts, an engineer at GOOGLE, gave an inspireing if lighthearted TED Talk in which he argued that setting and achieving a personal goal over a 30 day period can be a very fulfilling experience. Josée was inspired enough by the talk to take on a 30 day challenge herself. Here is Matt Cutts' TED Talk:
The why is, perhaps, more personal. Josée has always abhorred routine. She is goal oriented and actually enjoys deadlines. And, on a deeper psychological level, I think Josée uses cooking to express the tremendous love and affection she has for her family and friends. Few things please her more than to see us enjoy the fruits of her many hours spent in the kitchen preparing a wonderful meal.
Now a challenge such as the one she set for herself would be a daunting task in any big city but to do it in Bermuda presented a unique difficulty, and that is the pausity unusual ingredients. Fortunately, Josée enjoys a strong mutual respect with most the chefs at Bermuda's important establishments and as such was able to tap into their resources. In addition, Mile's Market, our local purveyer of fine foods, is amazingly well stocked and was a regular source of necessary ingredients. Kimchi or Swedish lingonberries, anyone?
Consider what is involved in cooking a meal from a different country every day for 30 consecutive days. First, you need to decide on the countries. Josée did not want countries that were part of our regular routine so Canada, England and Bermuda were out and the USA was only included because one of the meals fell on Thanksgiving. On the other hand, she could not exclude the countries that form the pillars of western cuisine, i.e. Italy, France, Spain and Greece. The rest were chosen because Josée had a particulat interest in them or because they were completely unknown to her.
You may have noticed that in order to make a difficult challenge even more difficult, Josée covered 33 countries, not 30; on three of the evenings, 2 countries were covered. The reason for this is the important culinary similarities shared by the paired countries made them natural matches.
Josée then drew up a schedule so that the more important events took place on the weekends when guests would be present. She also had to take into consideration the days I was on-call as these are "dry" nights.
Then the ingredients had to be sourced and purchased. It was very important to do this well in advance as the authenticity of a dish could be jeopardized by the absence of a specific spice or condiment.
Finally, the meals had to be prepared. I have to say that this last part was when Josée seemed to be completely in her element. I would walk into the kitchen after she had been cooking for 4 or 5 hours and she seemed happy as a lark. Something she said halfway though the challenge, however, struck me as particularly apt, and that is, "You know, every time I walk into my house these days, it doesn't smell like it's my house." Indeed, Josée managed to take us on a wonderful gastronomic journey.
Just for the fun of it, I present you with some of the "numbers" we tallied for the 30 days of the Challenge:
- 1 - number of TUMs used by Joe
- 1 - bottles of vintage port consumed
- 1 - bottles of sake consumed
- 1 - bottles of Averna consumed
- 2 - items of clothing left behind
- 2 - glasses broken
- 4 - Margueritas served
- 8 - bottles of beer drunk
- 34- bottles of sparkling water
- 59 - different guests who attended the dinners
- 88 - total number oh hours Josée spent cooking
- 96 - bottles of wine consumed
- 123 - photographs of food taken
- 124 - number of dishes prepared by Josée
- 339 - number of glasses used (and washed)
- 1677 - visitors to quickswood.com
- 14,787 - word count for blog articles written about the meals
Now that it's over, we do feel a bit of a void. Josée has a lot more spare time and is more inclined to make "reservations" for dinner. For my part, I no longer feel like a New York Times reporter constantly trying to meet a publication deadline. And by the way, we are now accepting dinner invitations.
Thank you Suparvan for your tremendous help as well as your contribution to the Thai evening. The sweet Thai melodies you sing are very dear to me and enrich this household.
We would like to thank all of the friends and family who joined us for one or more of the meals. Your presence and appreciation certainly enhanced the enjoyment and made it all worth while. So, thank you to Ian, Graham, Duncan, Jo, Chrissy, Peter, Reesa, Kyle, Alex, Phil, Nina, Hermann, Angela, Rod,Mary, Milan, Charlie, Edward, Alicia, Andrew, Judith, Margaret, Pennie, Ken, Colin, Peggy, Huw, Louise, Greg, Shelly, François, Charlene, Michael, Ian, Peter, Cathy, Maya, Charles, Tom, Robin, Christine, Craig, and Veronique.
And finally, here is a word from Josée who in spite of constantly telling me to stay out of her kitchen could not stay out of my blog:
Yes indeed it was an amazing challenge for many reasons. It allowed me to learn so much about cuisines that otherwise I would not have dared tackle. It improved my knowledge of ingredients that I was not familiar with such as Mexican dry peppers, Indian spices as well as a whole array of Asian produces.
As Joe mentioned I hate routine so this project made me look forward to take on something different everyday. Certainly though, the most enjoyable part was sharing many of those meals with good friends and family members. But most importantly, Joe and I did this together and it became our challenge. After almost 30 years of marriage to enjoy doing something like this with your spouse is extremely rewarding and I would not have succeeded without his support and involvement.
I think somewhere, somehow there is a book project somewhere in this challenge so we will keep you posted for 30/30/30 by Joe and Josée!
Here's to the next 30 Day Challenge!