Mariam Harris on how food + family are perfect ingredients for love
Everyone has a food story to tell: whether it was the time you got caught sneaking a taste out of a piping hot pot, finally getting hold of your grandmother’s heavily-guarded recipe, or breaking bread with loved ones over the holidays. In part three of our BETWEEN US series,
Cape Town-based cook, entrepreneur and mother Mariam Harris recalls how food brought her closer to her family.
“I never knew cooking was something I wanted to do as I had a longstanding career in retail. However, it was when I got diagnosed with lymphoma at age 28 that I started to look at food from beneath the surface.” She says it became apparent that she shouldn't just eat for the sake of it, but eat with a purpose; to be healthy.
“To make this journey a success, I knew I had to take baby steps, cooking basic healthy meals that also tasted and looked appetising. This transports me back to my lunch meals at work. My food was always plated and presented as I would do at home and I would eat with real cutlery. We eat with our eyes, right?”
Mariam says this is very important to her because she sees food as love and, whether you’re eating by yourself or with loved ones, it has a way of bringing people closer together.
“It was only when I was on maternity leave years later that I thought about turning cooking into a business. To my surprise, people loved it. That was the bright spark I needed to pursue this even further. Whenever I would step into the kitchen, I would feel a sense of calmness and joy.”
In retrospect, Mariam says she always knew she was always destined for cooking but just didn’t know it at that time.
“The Facebook memory notification I got a few weeks ago reads as follows: ‘let me head to the kitchen’. While this might mean different things to different people, for me it’s confirmation that I’m in the right space, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, at the right time.”
Mariam gives credit to her previous job when considering how her business has evolved. From that experience she learnt ways of moving with the times and adapting her business to the market needs. These days, her Cooked.Inc brand stands out from other food businesses because she says she didn’t stop at just selling ready-made meals, but went on to add cooking workshops, meal prep sessions, and healthy eating consultations to her list of offerings.
On the global pandemic and its impact on human interaction, Mariam says: “We’ve all pressed pause; making room for reconnecting with each other, and eating together as a family does just that; provides a time for reconnection. I come from a family of nine and meal times have always played an important role in gathering everyone together.
“I’ve since adopted the same ways with my own family. When the clock hits seven in the evening everyone should be at the table with their phones off and eating together. This is a crucial time for the family to reflect, connect and enjoy each other’s company. Indeed, a routine can sometimes turn into a habit. My little one’s favourite things, and probably ours too, about dinner time is going around the table to ask how the day was and what it is we got up to, It’s the cutest thing!”
It’s been said that love makes food taste great and what you put into it is what you get out of it, which is why Marriam finds it so fulfilling to express her love through food.
“This means, trying a dish before concluding that you don’t like it. I have a picky eater at home and, as a family, we agreed on always trying whatever food is presented on the dinner table, and it’s okay if you don’t like it afterward.”
A typical Friday night dinner under lockdown in her home reveals tell-tale handprints on the fridge door from constant opening and closing in search of the best pizza toppings. “This is a family affair! From rolling out the dough to scooping some tomato sauce on the pizza base and sprinkling on different cheeses,” she says, adding how and the fun part is “going ham on the toppings!”.
On Saturdays the family enjoys what they affectionately refer to as “slow mornings”. It’s also a time when the house fills up with scents of vanilla essence and butter from all the baking they do. “Something about that smell says ‘this is home’.”
“Our lives pre-Covid-19 also consisted of mini family getaways once in a while, and on top of my to-pack list would always be pots, pans, and spices because, even though we’re not at home, I still want us to share that common feeling of togetherness with the food I make.
“For my business not to die down from the pandemic and risk me losing my spark in the kitchen, I had to go back to the drawing board to find a solution that will allow me to still host cooking workshops while adhering to the covid-19 regulations.”
This resulted in her Quarantine Cook-Along idea coming to life. With it families, friends, couples or singles can order a meal kit with all the ingredients from Cooked.inc for safe delivery to their doorsteps. This convenience removes the hassle of going out to different shops to find the right ingredients for a specific dish. On the day of the workshop, clients join a Zoom call and cook along with Mariam’s guidance.
“Apart from providing convenience, I also want people to fall in love with cooking again. I don’t want cooking to be viewed as a chore but as something to do when you want to uplift your spirits, unwind or connect to your loved ones. Since many aren’t dining out I also wanted to bring a different flare to date night, family night, or just quality time with yourself.”
“It’s motivating to see what the couple’s cooking workshops have done for many of my clients. I remember a couple joining in on one of the workshops with the husband reluctant to participate but, in the end, he was the one asking when the next workshop would be. This is the kind of feeling I want to ignite in my customers.”
About her secret ingredient for a good tasting meal, Mariam reveals it isn’t just her famous salt and pepper combination; it’s also pure love. She says that when your intentions are based on love when doing something for those closest to you, it naturally turns out better. She’s confident that the same applies to cooking because “when you cook with love, your food will taste like a warm hug from a loved one”.
She reminds us that energy transfers into food and to always try making and eating what she calls happy food. “After all, food is a powerful tool of love and nourishment. When you consume nourishing food, you aren’t just eating something delicious - you’re telling your body that it’s worth fueling. Similarly, when you cook for a loved one, you’re also sharing a part of yourself, contributing to long-lasting memories that will one day put you back to a specific time and place.”
Marriam says she’s going into 2021 with hope; the hope that she continues to help rebuild relationships through food and seeing clients in a filled venue, embracing each other and connecting on a deeper level than they do online.
That’s love made visible!
Follow Mariam Harris on Instagram.