According to her formal education, Sara Cohen-Fournier is an oral historian and a medical student. The way she tells it, she is really a story-lover, food-maker, dish-eater, and all around meal-sharer.
Backround: My passion for food and stories has led me to grow vegetables and pick fruits around the globe, in mountain gardens in rural Patagonia and crowded balconies in Harlem. I’ve harvested vegetables to serve with freshly killed wild guanaco in a small mud hut in a Mapuche-Tehuelche community, and boiled maple sap into delicious elixir inside my family’s sugar shack in the pristine Bois Franc region of Quebec. These experiences were not just sensory–they were rich moments in my life where I absorbed a rich wealth of knowledge from the people I was with, just like a chunk of potato in hot water, soaking up the spices added to flavor a soup.
Raised in the multi-cultural city that is Montreal, I have always been fascinated with the variety of meals that were given special importance at the various festivities, small and large, that took place around the city. To break the fast after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, my grandfather would always serve a tomato-based soup made with chickpeas or lentils, ginger, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon that our family used to make before they left Morocco. I was surprised when I was invited to break the fast of Ramadan at my Judo coach, Hakim’s house, and his wife served the delicious soup with a red broth. As soon as I tasted it, I shouted, “That’s Harira!”. He just smiled at me. Of course, he was North African too, and his family had always eaten the same soup to break their fasts during Ramadan. Originally Berber, Harira is a well-loved dish that was served in the Jewish and Muslim communities across North Africa, and is apparently prepared by both for their special occasions. And so, through small connections and shared moments, I’ve started, slowly, to see the various meanings tied to foods and cooking. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve wanted to know and share about these wonderful combinations passed on from one generation to the next, and from one culture to another.