Luigi Sison

10 10 2008

by  Jessica Ashley Nelson with edits by Megan Hines and Emily Larson

Luigi Sison - by Jessica NelsonDiffering from fast food dining where cars are lined up outside of a drive-thru window, every Sunday evening Luigi Sison promotes his community by opening his home in Northfield, Minnesota, to students who are interested in learning how to cook. Each week the meal is different, sometimes Ethiopian, Thai or Filipino. But no matter the cuisine, it is cooked using all locally sourced ingredients. Luigi treats the evening as though his guests are a part of his working kitchen, assigning each person a task, whether it be washing, cutting or cooking the food. Luigi also uses it as an opportunity to experiment with new recipes and to understand what is works and what does not.

I enter Luigi’s kitchen as if it were a museum, exhibiting the finest fruits and vegetables. Rich color extends across an assortment of bowls filled with tomatoes, squash, chilies and an array of green and red peppers placed upon the island in the center of the kitchen. The granite surface of the counter top serves as a pedestal, displaying the organic tone and shape of each piece of food. I see Luigi pull additional bowls from the cupboards above his head, pushing ingredients to the side in an attempt to make room for the food he has prepared for us. Looking past him I see a sink filled with cooking utensils, counter tops piled high with dishes, and pots and pans fighting for their spot on top of one another. Luigi dashes back and forth throughout the kitchen, tending to the stove where he is preparing several dishes.

Originally from the Philippines, Luigi has been cooking since he arrived in the United States more than 25 years ago. Although he spends his days in Rochester, Minnesota, working as a computer architect at the Mayo Clinic, Luigi finds his second passion in preparing food. “Meals are creations, beautiful things”, he says. For Luigi, the process of grocery shopping for the correct ingredients, the preparation of the materials, the visual splendor and aroma of the food, as well as the physical consumption of the meal are all equally important.

The "Plate" of Luigi Sison - by Jessica NelsonAs Luigi reaches for yet another dish to present a selection of cheeses to us, he announces, “I know where all of my food comes from! My cheese, my produce.” I am impressed and certainly inspired by this, for I wouldn’t know the first place to look up the producers of the raspberries or blocks of cheese I purchase from my local Cub Foods grocery store. He goes on, addressing farmers in Northfield by name, describing each of their fortes. As I take a bite into a piece of bread covered with Luigi’s own chili jam spread and a considerable cut of cheese, he announces that the Blue Cheese topping is from Steven and Jodi Ohlsen of Shepherd’s Way Farm in nearby Nerstrand, Minnesota.

As the free-range chicken is served upon a lovely bed of jasmine rice, and alongside a vibrant squash dish, Luigi expresses his support for local farmers. I watch Luigi move quickly about his kitchen as he prepares to distribute the final dish of the meal. “The timing has to be just right,” he says as he continues to throw out more characteristics of a cook, such as, “a good cook needs good knives” or, “you burn yourself a lot.”

Shopping at the local farmers’ market almost every week during the growing season, Luigi gets the freshest produce and helps support Northfield’s economy. He articulates the importance of shopping within one’s own community from a value and economic standpoint. “Local food is fresher, and environmentally better,” he states as he continues to explain the large amount of travel required to distribute food that is found in conventional stores. The bottom line: the less energy it takes for the food to get to the table the better.

Acknowledging the reality of American society today, Luigi directs attention to the issue of convenience. Yes, it is easy to run to the Super Wal-Mart across the street. There, one can see where they could get all of their shopping done in one stop with no need to worry about the amount of time needed to prepare a meal. Everything there is already packaged and prepared. However, the questions then become these: How does the convenient food taste? What is its nutritional value? What pleasure of making a meal from scratch have we missed?

Fresh, Local Ingredients - by Jessica NelsonConsumers today are raised to think with their wallets, where low prices trump value and quality in most minds, especially when it comes to food. On a national level, our government encourages farmers to grow as much corn and soybean crop as possible, which means taxpayers subsidize produce that is superfluous to our needs. Our western diet is primarily corn- based, carrying high numbers of carbohydrates and sugars, which contribute to health issues such as diabetes and heart attacks. Luigi says, “Although we are buying cheap food, we are paying for it in the end by risking our health.” Education is the key according to Luigi because consumers must make informed decisions about what they are buying and consider how their choices will affect them physically.

When asking Luigi what he finds most rewarding about the process, he describes his roots in cooking as a child. He grew up with homemade meals, learning through trial and error. He wants to keep with his heritage, and encourage his own children to do the same. “I want to encourage family life,” he says. “Sit down and talk to each other. So many kids grow up on McDonald’s because families don’t think they have time to cook, or they are too lazy. We’ve given up one of the few basic pleasures of living. And for what? Convenience? Although we are one of the richest countries in the world, why have we lowered our standards of food?” Spending the evening with Luigi, I felt a new appreciation for where my food comes from and reevaluating what my standard of food should be.

To view more photos see the Luigi Sison Slideshow

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One response

31 10 2010
Rhinoplasty :

there are lots of cheap foods on the market that taste like crap but there are good quality ones too *

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