Food has always been about more than just the physical transaction of sustenance. It has the ability to fill in deeper ways; ways that penetrate not just the stomach, but the soul. Melissa d’Arabian believes in the power of the family meal and in cooking for the person, not the plate. But this discovery didn’t come by winning a cooking reality show. It came by years upon years of learning to see God in His perfect provision and accepting His invitation to fill us in ways that matter most. It’s a grace to welcome Melissa to the farm’s front porch today…
Ilearned about hospitality at an early age.
When I was five, my mom was raising my sister and me on her tight budget, but she was determined to have friends over to celebrate the Christmas season.
We gathered simple ingredients: margarine, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, flour. While Mom creamed the margarine, I added the sugar.
Working in sync, Stacy, Mom, and I created a simple sugar-cookie dough. We spooned it onto baking sheets, and in minutes she pulled them from the oven: melt-in-your-mouth cookies, crisp on the bottom but still chewy and just slightly crumbly. They were misshapen and simple, but they were special.
Together we’d created a gift we were excited for our friends to share.
Later that day we welcomed our girlfriends—Mom’s and ours—into our tiny, unimpressive home.
We ate those awkward sugar cookies and sipped hot chocolate made from powdered mix and hot water.
This was not a fete worthy of the society pages or even a paper invitation. But it didn’t matter. The joy we shared in being together, celebrating the season with friends and food, made me fall in love with cooking.
I saw the ability of food to connect people.
That first holiday gathering brought us such joy that it evolved into an annual event we came to call our Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea.
Some years we would go all out, cooking for weeks ahead of time and stocking our freezer with goodies. Other years, finances or busyness meant we served a threadbare menu of cookies and carrots and celery sticks.
I learned quickly from Mom that the people were always more important than the food.
When Mom died my junior year of college, the holiday teas stopped without notice.
That first Christmas I was alone without Mom was even lonelier because I had also lost my yearly touch point with all the significant women in my life. My mom’s best friend, Jerri, encouraged me to start a holiday tea again when I felt ready.
I tucked the idea into my heart for nearly two decades.
In 2006, I revived the tradition by baking cookies for my sixteenth mother-daughter tea—the first with my daughters Valentine and Charlotte—and inviting local mom friends, who brought their daughters.
The very next year, we added the girls’ twin sisters, Margaux and Océane, to the guest list. All our girls have come to look forward to the annual party, claiming it’s their favorite day of the year.
The first tea I hosted after winning The Next Food Network Star was in Seattle, where we had moved for Philippe’s job, and that tea was a lesson in the true meaning of hospitality.
The day before the tea, a Pacific Northwest wind and rainstorm caused our pipes to burst. The emergency plumber we called did his best to fix the problem, but there was simply no way I could do any cooking in time.
In an attempt to avert a total tea-party catastrophe, I sent my husband to the store. He came home with a pretty sad assortment of rejected birthday cakes, day-old grocery-store cookies, and even some Chips Ahoy!.
The next morning, I tried to keep my spirits up as I arranged industrial-produced chocolate chip cookies on my prettiest platter and gingerly wiped the words Happy Birthday off a refrigerated cake.
I then greeted guests with a smile as they walked in the door, reminding myself that Julia Child believed in never apologizing for the food. The disappointment was the cook’s to bear alone. And I was definitely bearing disappointment.
To add to the dreary mood, the rain was unrelenting. Our guests—wearing high-tea dresses and heels—would have had to park below our house and walk uphill ten minutes in the rain, except that Philippe offered to act as valet. He shuttled every single guest up the hill and then parked their cars for them for all three hours of the party.
This party was set up to be a complete disaster. But guess what?
None of this mattered to anyone.
What could have been a disastrous party ended up a being a total joy.
That day I shed some of my “Martha” tendencies. The Martha in the Bible was overly concerned about the details of entertaining her guests, while Mary focused on Jesus.
When Martha complained about her sister not helping but rather sitting and listening to Jesus talk, He told Martha that Mary was the one whose heart was actually in the right place.
On that rainy, muddy, broken-pipes day, God saved me from becoming Martha in my hosting, and He redeemed the disaster by opening my eyes to being in the presence of precious friends.
Have you ever had a last-minute disaster you thought would ruin a party or gathering? I’ll bet it didn’t.
The good news is that the point of the party is never for the host to look good.
The most important thing we give our guests is our attention and love.
The food is a conduit, certainly, but it’s secondary. People matter more than the platters on the buffet table.
Sharing food connects us and reminds us how similar we really are despite our human-created societal constructs.
As a result, our hearts are more open, and there is space for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
We can all host even if cooking isn’t our natural gift.
In fact, we are told specifically to host: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling”(1 Peter 4:9).
Jesus welcomed all—foreigners, strangers, people who were different from Him—into His fold.
We can take comfort in knowing that at any given moment, we are actually being hosted ourselves by God!
Whatever we do here on earth, we are doing at the invitation of God as His guests.
So take comfort in knowing the pressure is off.
Just welcome and serve.
Celebrity chef, television host, and the winner of Food Network Star season five, Melissa d’ Arabian is the best-selling author of Ten Dollar Dinners and Supermarket Healthy. Melissa enjoys sharing her table with her husband, Philippe, and their four daughters in their home near San Diego.
In her newest book, Tasting Grace, Melissa shows how food is not an afterthought to God, but an invitation to lean more into His grace.
Whether you are a mom struggling to throw together a healthy meal for your family each night or a single woman longing for fellowship around your table, you will draw encouragement and inspiration from Melissa’s reminder that all food, first and foremost, is a gift from God. When you return to Him as the source, you will find the freedom to enjoy His beautiful and delicious creation.
[ Our humble thanks to Waterbrook for their partnership in today’s devotion ]