Nobody really knows how and when we started cooking. But somewhere back in our murky past, meat found its way to fire after the kill.
And it was good.
Taste was the reason back then, and a good reason at that. The sense of taste tells an animal what to eat. If something tastes good a creature will eat more of it. This was before junk food threw our perceptions out of whack by going overboard on the tastes we crave. So it only makes sense that taste was the original goal for cooking, and our taste buds were right. Cooked meat is better for us. Cooking unravels proteins and loosens muscle fiber in meat, which makes for easier chewing and digestion.
Cooking was also the origin for a couple of other distinctly human constructs — community and culture — that pretty much led to who and what we are today. There is no way to untangle cooking and food from our social network and our development as a species.
We are what we eat. We are what we have eaten. We are how we prepared and ate it. We are who we shared it with.
This month’s cover story is about food and community and culture in the form of Main Street Russellville’s Taste of the Valley winner in two categories — People’s Choice and Local Flavor — Ridgewood Brothers Barbecue. Grant and Robert are just a couple of Russellville hometown boys who have found the key to our primal, carnivorous hearts. It’s in the shape of brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, turkey, sausage and some glorious side dishes.
But, as the article will explain, there’s far more to it than hunks of smoked meat. There’s an intimate relationship with the elementals of fire and air. There’s a reverent attitude toward the oak, the cow, and the pig. And there’s an understanding that delicious food is one of the best building blocks of community.
These aren’t new ideas or even old secrets. They’re simply part of who we are, a memory embedded in all of us that Robert and Grant want to coax out.
They coax with the sweet and succulent scent of cooked meat, the smoky promise of warmth (which we often find appealing even in summer) and the subtle message of a gathering that we’re all in this together.
Their business is about the food, yes, neither Robert nor Grant will tell you differently. But it’s also about who we are, here, in the River Valley community.