by Natul Middlebrook
Hosting to Connect Rather Than Impress
I began putting what I learned to practice by hosting his colleagues on a regular basis. Their “oohs” and “aahs” over dinner made my hostess’ heart sing and I knew hospitality would become a big part of my life.
I was in my late twenties when I began to spread my foodie wings. Rachel Ray was my cooking mentor and 6:30 pm was sacred time. I’d make sure my newborn son was bathed, fed and tucked away before the start of 30 Minute Meals and there I would eagerly watch with pen and paper in hand. My husband was doing his medical residency at the time and I began putting what I learned to practice by hosting his colleagues on a regular basis. Their “oohs” and “aahs” over dinner made my hostess’ heart sing and I knew hospitality would become a big part of my life.
Although I appreciated the Venezuelan comfort foods of my childhood, I wanted to cook impressive, more refined foods for my guests. Not that stewed chicken legs, black beans and corn-meal arepas weren’t delicious, they just weren’t fit for entertaining.
I pored through Food and Wine and Saveur magazines and cooked foods I had never eaten before. I learned to roast brussel sprouts and garnish salads with fennel fronds and pan-sear halibut. I dared to roast whole legs of lamb and toss fish heads into water to make my own seafood stock.
I laugh now looking back at many of these feasts and remember being elbow-deep in turkey trying to break up a scuffle between my toddlers with my feet. There were lots of tears shed, snapping at children and bickering between my husband and I before dinner guests arrived. Most holiday feasts involved multiple runs to the store because either I was missing ingredients or I made a mistake that could not be fixed. Whew! Those days were stressful!
Over the years, I’ve learned that hospitality is less about entertaining and more about connecting with people. It’s less about impressing people and more about impressing on them how much you care about them. You don’t need high-end ribeyes and roasted brussel sprouts to do that. A simple bowl of black beans and crusty arepas does the trick just fine.
With my oldest being 18 and my youngest 9, I see now how fast the days roll by. So I’ve found ways to reconcile feasting with the work it takes to get the food on the table. I’ve gone back to my mother’s cooking. I use simple ingredients and do my best to make them shine without adding all the fluff. I’m cooking what I know and I think my people are better for it. Turns out my kids would rather eat a well-fried egg over white rice and plantain than filet mignon.
…”I’ve learned that hospitality is less about entertaining and more about connecting with people. It’s less about impressing people and more about impressing on them how much you care about them.”Natul Middlebrook
Cooking is sort of like writing, it’s more authentic (and good) if you cook what you know rather than cook what you don’t know. It makes for more honest food because you cook from the heart rather than from your head.
I encourage you to go back to the flavors of your childhood. Make some phone calls and collect recipes from family members that cooked for you. If you don’t have someone that cooked for you, make a list of the foods you love to eat. Find those recipes and make them your own over time. It will be these flavors that your kids will look back on with fondness and longing. Not because they were fancy, but because they were yours.
About the Author:
Read about Natul in her own words.
Yes, my name is a little like mysterious tamale pie meets American apple pie, but I’ve come to embrace that I am both a first-generation Latina and a proud Texan.Along with my husband, Dr.Dan, we are raising the family of our dreams in a place I’m proud to call my hometown. We have our frantic days as a family of 7, but no matter how hurried or disappointing some days can be— the table is our reset, our time to pause and praise together.
Because of a difficult childhood, I’ve advocated for the fatherless and abused for 20 years. You can learn more about my work here and here. Caring for vulnerable children has led me to understand the significance of family as the catalyst for doing good in our communities and in the world. I believe doing good in our communities starts with loving Jesus and loving family. I became a classically trained chef because as a kid my mom loved us through the food she served us morning and evening. Even though our immigrant family struggled, there were lots of gatherings and music and laughter and there was always delicious food to be enjoyed. Food was a soft place that broke up the hardness of our lives. I’ve learned so much from amazing mamas that God put on my path. From one, I’ve learned how to encourage my kids towards excellence. From another I’ve learned patience and gentleness and another I’ve learned to plan and shop for my kids more effectively. If I had to say what I’ve taught my friends, it’s how to be intentional about seeking Jesus in the hearth of our home— the place where we gather to eat and talk.
I hope you have enjoyed this encouraging story from my friend Natul. To make things even more exciting there will be a giveaway up on IG inviting you to care for your souls through flavor and fair-trade!!