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Nana’s Soulfood Kitchen

By Shadon Meredith

My Nana is 76 years old. You can see in her face she has lived an extraordinary life. Nana doesn’t cook in her kitchen no more, but my mum and my three aunties do. Nana’s Kitchen is where I, as a kid realized my potential as an artist.

It was a sensory overload for a kid. The visuals, the smells, the sounds, the textures, and most importantly the tastes. My Nana cooked with feelings, stories and nostalgia.

It would go something like this.
It’s the way my nana would know just the right amount to drop in the pot, maybe it’s her subtle confidence, no it definitely comes down to her experience but I guess I never ever saw her as old. It was the way her music would play as though she was cooking for your aural entrée. It was the way she told me off for not knowing the right amount to put in the pot like she had told me the amount a million times but actually only told me once. It was the way she got excited to cook for me after being away pursuing my craft. That spicy salmon curry and rice for breakfast; an odd breakfast in a western sense but a breakfast she would make for her father back in Samoa. It was not only nostalgic for me but for her too.

My Nana is 76 years old. The reality of it all is that she’s getting older. You can see in her body the wear and tear an extraordinary life can have on the human physical form. Nana doesn’t cook in her kitchen no more, but my family frequents it still and uses it services. Traditional Samoan music keeps the emotional sense of Nana in the kitchen. It holds nostalgia in its notes. Whilst the music plays my family replicates and adds touches of their own design to my Nana’s ‘Chef’s Table’. It’s not the same as my Nana’s – all in all, the form is there but the spirit of it all has changed.

I was born and understood the art of performance should we say from an early age in my Nana’s kitchen and around her dinner table with an audience of 10 or so family members.

Not only did I learn performance but I also learnt structure, etiquette, manners, process and dialogue, which centered and grounded itself around dinner time or conversations with cups of tea.

Sometimes the conversations we had were full of laughter, typical Samoan humour, or sometimes they were filled with silences as we learnt as a unit to have those ‘hard’ conversations.

My Nana is 76 years old. My reality, though I know it has to come, is about to bring me to my knees. I don’t know after she goes, that I will get to see this kitchen again that I talk so fondly of. I know she doesn’t cook in her kitchen no more but I bet she would love to. Nostalgia is all that remains or it’s the thing we chase or try to recreate, it also makes us avoid the ‘thing’ that we don’t want to really believe in, my Nana’s death. Its funny cause the kitchen is the place where we get to make food and food gives us life, yet I guess all we are doing in there is trying to learn the things that my Nana did just in case she’s not there anymore.

She used to sit at the helm of her dinner table, the dinner table sat adjacent to her kitchen. The kitchen hugged the sides of the walls with enough room for a table that could host six people should we need it. Her dinner table, if you were lucky enough to look at its top under all of its protective layers, is a beautiful dark piece of wood that was oiled at least three times a year, it could fit six comfortably on Nana’s own upholstered elegant chairs. She used to sit at the helm of this particular dinner table that still sits adjacent to her kitchen. She played her music as she cooked, she taught me all things in life through her cooking and through the way she knows herself especially when she sat at the helm of her dinner table.

Nana sits downstairs now waiting for time to pass. Stairs have become her enemy. Those darn stairs. Artistry comes in many forms. Hers is of her kitchen; the one place she does not enter no more.

She is still teaching me in her non-teaching. This is I guess, my sensei’s last teaching and it will be in her aftermath of a kitchen when she leaves to reunite and cook for my Grandpa after nearly 40 years of being apart.

Nana’s Soulfood Kitchen.

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