Food, like so many other things, doesn’t just happen. It takes time, patience, and effort. You have to want to achieve the final goal — a beautiful tomato or a fantastic meal — but don’t miss out on what it takes to get there. 

Spend even a little time with a farmer or chef and it becomes readily apparent that you have to focus on and enjoy the whole process, not just the finished product. That tomato bisque you had for lunch began with a seed many months ago and involved weeds, compost, heat, bugs, a chef’s trip to the market, a cook not showing for a shift, careful peeling and seasoning, and the outrageous fun that is using a stick blender.

 Ask me about my day in a kitchen and I will describe the insurmountable task completed, the drama circumvented, the discovery of a shortcut, and how the team worked like a machine. The finished plate seems so uninteresting by comparison. 

Ask me about a favorite meal and there’s a good chance I’ll tell you about what I burned on the first attempt, the success that resulted in the food being eaten right off the stove, the friends who shared it, and of course I’ll make you admire my war wounds. 

Cliches that reference this abound. In a society where we want things now, finished, and perfect, the enjoyment of the journey is lost. Yet, life would be so boring if everything was “done.” It’s taken me 40 years to figure it out, but enjoying the process is so much more rewarding. 

When we lived in Portland, Oregon, one of my frequent complaints was that the food world there was “done.” Every chef had a garden, all of them sourced local, each restaurant was “sustainable,” Styrofoam had been banned for years, and the city was a model for recycling. It was downright boring; so we moved. 

Watching something grow and change is where the fun is. And making it happen is the worthiest of goals. When something is enjoyed, it doesn’t really seem like work. 

Living in Memphis has made me re-evaluate how I set my goals. They cannot just be items to just check off a list. Memphis food involves ever-evolving processes and I don’t want to miss a thing. There aren’t enough hours in the day to participate in everything that is changing and growing. If you don’t believe me, you need to venture away from Outback Steakhouse once in a while. 

The mental “fresh start” initiated by the roll of the calendar is a great time to re-evaluate your goals, for yourself and the town you live in. 

If I want “done,” I can just pop a Stouffer’s lasagna in the microwave. Instead I think I’ll experiment with a homemade sauce when friends come to dinner next week. If I want “easy,” I can cruise through Schnucks, but I think I’ll spend an hour or more at the Tsumani Saturday Winter Market and snag the new duo cheese from Bonnie Blue and be the first to hear what the farmers plan for next year. If I want “perfect,” I’ll watch the Duke game on TV, but I think I’d rather yell my head off when Antonio Barton makes a three, while I’m decked out in my super-cool, Tiger blue cowboy boots. 

There’s just no fun in “done,” “easy,” “quick,” or “perfect.”

 So what are my goals for the year? They all involve helping Memphis’s amazing local food system to grow. Promote farmers markets. Help chefs find local. Publish a food magazine. Work with the Health Department and Food Advisory Council to change food regulations. Advance the sustainability of our restaurants with Project Green Fork. Speak to church, garden and other groups about the benefits of local food. Volunteer at a community garden. I’ll probably try to throw in a cooking demo or two, because even if I convince just one more person to enjoy food and cook, it’s all worth it. Goals don’t have to be monumental to be worthwhile. 

Being a list person, I love nothing more than to check off completed tasks. But this isn’t that type of list. It’s a process and I plan to enjoy every minute of it. 2011 promises to be a fantastic journey. And while I’d love to dig in to some of the other issues that are growing and changing in Memphis, it looks like I’ve got a full plate. 

So that begs the question, what do you have on your plate for 2011? Come into the “kitchen,” where all the cool stuff happens. Get your hands dirty. Burn something. Make something beautiful. Be a part of a team. Experience being “in the weeds” …and getting out. Are you going to participate in the process of positive change, or just belly-ache at the table until the finished meal arrives?