Cooking up Culture in Thelma’s Kitchen

A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. A splash of culture was the secret ingredient in the dishes Thelma was preparing the evening we met. The funny thing is, she didn’t even know it. We arrived in Torio just after dark. A friend had suggested we eat at Thelma’s place in town. Thelma greeted us warmly, calling us into her kitchen to find out what we wanted for dinner. There were two options on the menu that evening, stir-fried chicken with homemade patacones for $6.00, and lobster pasta for $8.00. We all opted for the lobster pasta. Thelma asked us to come back in 40 minutes; the food would be cooked fresh.

40 minutes later we returned to a full restaurant. There were four tables of at least twelve people and Thelma was alone in the kitchen. She warned, the table beside ours had ordered before us and would be served first. We ensured her we were not in a hurry, and would not mind the wait.  

About twenty minutes passed. We helped ourselves to cold Panama’s from the fridge in the dining room. Others did the same. Conversation, in French, English and Spanish, filled the air.  We drank and laughed, with little regard for the time passing.
That is until rich aromas escaped from the kitchen reminding our bellies of the lobster pasta we had ordered.

Leaning back from my table I peeked into the kitchen, catching a glimpse of another woman. I realized it was the woman from the table beside ours. She was helping Thelma cook.

I noticed the woman’s children and husband were also helping, wrapping cutlery and distributing it. Then it hit me. The table, (the one that had ordered before us) had taken it upon themselves to help Thelma serve the entire restaurant.

Four large piping hot helpings of lobster pasta were brought to our table. Each plate was stocked with fresh lobster tails, swimming in cream sauce and angel hair pasta. After our table, two more tables were served before the family who had ordered first sat down and served themselves.

As I ate, possibly the best lobster pasta I had ever eaten, I was thankful to have experienced Thelma’s kitchen on a busy night, when she was short staffed.This is for a couple of reasons: First to have informally met the Aubert Family (the table who had ordered first, yet served the whole restaurant).  And finally as a reminder of our responsibility to foster a culture that thrives on community connection and simple acts of kindness.