I called it my food renaissance.
I was 22 years old, months out of college and living in Destin, Fla., where I worked for the city’s twice-weekly newspaper as a general assignments reporter.
I quickly learned that living half a mile from the sugar white beaches and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico has its perks (and for reasons that extended well beyond the steady influx of attractive coeds that streamed into town from all over the Southeast to spend a week at the beach and forget their troubles — and often their boyfriends).
Though its beaches have long been the region’s main draw, the city’s true jewel was its harbor, home to the state’s largest charter boat fishing fleet.
Every day, and often twice a day, second- and third-generation charter boat captains would ferry tourists and fishermen through East Pass and into the Gulf to snag some of the world’s most prized fish.
Heaps of red snapper, tuna, grouper and mahi mahi so fresh that its vibrant golden, blue and green hues had only begun to fade were regular sights down on the docks.
To the north, charter boats trawled Choctawhatchee Bay for red fish and speckled trout.
In nearby Apalachicola Bay, some of the world’s finest oysters — oysters highly sought after by chefs in New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta and all over the country — were being harvested and sold by the bushel.
With such beautiful, fresh ingredients so readily available, I’d be an idiot not to learn how to cook this stuff, I thought.
In the months that followed, I pored through the Culinary Institute of America’s 1,200-page manual, “The Professional Chef,” learned basic knife skills and studied books on different cuisine and flavor profiles.
The early results were mixed.
I distinctly remember abusing a pound of sea scallops that I tried to coat with black peppercorns and coriander that ended up being so overseasoned that I couldn’t even force them down.
But over time, I became better and now fancy myself a rather proficient home cook and, though it pains me to say, a full-fledged foodie.
For me, being a foodie is less about food festivals and watching “Top Chef,” and more about appreciating — like any other art form — the creativity and passion of those who have made cooking their life’s work.
Truly great food is not about the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B, from hungry to not. Nor is it about pretentious, and often ridiculous, plate presentations.
It’s about something more honest and primitive.
It’s about using your hands, a knife and a fire to blend flavors and ingredients in the pursuit of creating something that never would have existed otherwise — something memorable, personal and evocative.
This week, I offer my “in the kitchen” playlist, a compilation of eight songs likely to be on the stereo when I’m mixing things up in the kitchen.
Start cooking and, please, stop buying pre-diced onions. I promise, it’s not that hard.
• Miles Davis, “Blue in Green” — Jazz and cooking go together like ... well, like peas and carrots. Thanks, Forrest.
• Thelonious Monk, “Let’s Call This” — I’ve found that listening to jazz while working in the kitchen is the easiest way to feel like a genius. Like the music is the score for some PBS special about your distinct culinary stylings.
• Jack White, “Take Me With You When You Go” — Dancing in the kitchen is required.
• Rogue Wave, “Lake Michigan” — An undeniably beautiful song.
• The Lumineers, “Ho Hey” — A musical braise. A song cooked slow and low to perfectly tender results.
• Lykke Li, “Love Out of Lust” — “So dance while you can/Dance cause you must” might be some of my favorite lyrics ever.
• The National, “All the Wine” — Don’t drink “all the wine” while you’re cooking. Have some, but not all.
• Frank Turner, “I Still Believe” — A perfectly gritty song for some smoky, sweaty work on the grill.