Risotto and the Hero’s Journey–Part 1

Happy Wednesday, all! I might have posted Monday had I not been so distraught over the Packers’ undoing by Colin Kaep–I mean, the 49ers (;D)–just kidding. Hey, I pulled for Packers but the better team won. Call me a front-runner (some man I’d never met before did in Wendy’s last week, AFTER he told me and my younger son to go incinerate our Giants’ jacket and hoodie–any wonder the man sat down alone to eat?), but I’ll watch the next 49ers game–awesome is as awesome does.

Let’s move on. Hope all is well and no one has the dreaded flu circulating the Boston area. Brings to mind author and online friend Carrie Rubin’s excellent debut novel, The Seneca Scourge. Crazy parallels going on with that story, which Carrie released earlier this year. If you’re interested, read my thoughts on it here. (But don’t forget to come back!)

What I adore about the internet is the connections one gets to make all over the globe. Should I ever make it to my Aussie cousins and the Australian Open Tennis Championships–Rafa Nadal pulled out so I figured I’d skip the trip this year ;)–I’ll make sure to look up today’s guest! I’ve been inspired by his posts: he challenges the hero in each of us to answer the calls life puts out there and be our very strongest. 

About the Author: James Stratford is an educator and author of numerous publications on the hero and international strategy. His blog, Beyond the Call, shares reflections on his own approach to  learning and personal development that are often inspired by the great hero ancient and modern stories. James is also a keen cyclist and traveler and a lover of great food – preferably all together. He lives with his wife and son in Melbourne, Australia. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Note: James has been terribly patient waiting for  me to finally get this post up–thanks, James. The floor is yours:

You’re probably wondering what risotto, the classic Italian rice dish, has to do with heroes. I can assure you, absolutely nothing.

Well almost nothing.

I realized the other day that it was almost twenty years ago exactly when I cooked risotto for the first time and when I first saw Joseph Campbell interviewed on the Power of Myth, thus starting my long relationship with the hero of myth and epic. I ended up devoting the next twenty years to researching one of the great ancient hero myths, Homer’s Iliad, which features the hero Achilles.

The hero myths stuck with me not merely because they’re wonderful stories, but because I’ve always found they resonate with whatever phase of life I’m in. I wrote about this in my book, Discover the Hero Within (published in Spanish as Descubre a tu heroe interior by Aguilar Fontanar–read an excerpt here). I’ve also found that the epic, and the hero’s journey generally, has held vital lessons which have inspired me and reminded me of the most resourceful strategies for living in the world and getting through some of the toughest times.

Eating and hospitality centered around the sharing of food have a subtle but important place in the journey of the hero. In the Iliad, meals take on a range of significance. When Achilles receives the embassy who have come to secure his return to battle, before any discussion takes place he instructs Patroklos to prepare food for his guests as an expression of xenia, or ‘guest-friendship’.

On the other hand, after the death of Patroklos, Achilles denies himself all food and is nourished by the gods who infuse him with nectar ambrosia. In the final and, many would say, the finest, book of the Iliad, Achilles graciously offers food and lodging to the old king, Priam, who has come to ransom the body of his son, Hektor, killed by Achilles in battle (in savage revenge for the death of Patroklos).

The sharing of food stands so simply and effectively as a ritual that embodies the natural order of the living. It is also symbolic of Achilles’ return to this world, not in a literal sense, but metaphorically as an agent of order rather than as a bringer of the chaos and death that characterize his grief-fueled return to battle. If you’re familiar with the Iliad, food has a similar significance in the closing stages of Book 1. When the Greeks appease the wrath of Apollo by returning Chryseis to her father, the troops bring closure to the episode by having a great feast and singing to the god. Order restored.

This is only a taste. If you read the Odyssey, eating plays an even more important role, and we see it used both properly by the venerable heroes of the Trojans and abused by the band of suitors who effectively hold Odysseus’ family under siege, and the infamous cyclops who turns Odysseus’ men into a meal.

But I don’t want to leave you on that grim image.

Rather I want to urge you to contemplate the significance of food on your journey:

the great meals you’ve shared; the satisfaction of eating simple foods after hard days in the bush, hiking or skiing or doing hard physical labour; great meals in foreign cities.

Then there are the real feasts, meals that we share to mark the most important days in our lives – marriage, birthdays, graduation.

Which ones stand out most and why?

I suspect that when you reflect on this you might find that while beautiful food is often central, what it’s really about are things like the nourishment of the spirit and the honouring of our relationships with one another. It’s no wonder food has such an important place in all the old cultures. It’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that the sharing of food is really the axle around which our cultures function, all starting at the family meal.

We’ll stop here for today. Friday, James will share the his own special risotto recipe. Definitely a weekend undertaking, given the time and dedication James discusses for this particular dish’s preparation. In the meantime, we’d love for you to take a moment and talk about how food figures into your life and relationships, be it cooking, eating, socializing, celebrating–it’s your call. Go for it. And if you please, do take a moment to SHARE via one of the buttons below.

Thanks so much and see you Friday 🙂


7 thoughts on “Risotto and the Hero’s Journey–Part 1

  1. It is interesting how great a part the sharing of meals plays in our lives. Everything is celebrated with meals. Heartache is ‘treated’ with meals, etc.

    I’ve always wanted to make risotto, but I’ve heard it’s tricky to get right. I look forward to seeing the recipe.

    Thanks for the mention, Joanna! Always appreciated. 🙂


    1. You’re welcome. Always a pleasure to do so when the moment calls for it 🙂

      As per risotto, I’m willing to give this a shot too. Sounds like James has been perfecting his for quite some time and practice makes perfect, esp. for something tricky like this staple. Take care and thanks for your comment!


    2. Without spoiling the next blog I’ll say there are two things to get right – taste and consistency. Taste you can play with to your heart’s content. With consistency the main thing when you’re starting off is to add liquid gradually and to stay with it, stirring frequently. I’ve seen people try and do it by adding a litre of water at the start and going away for twenty minutes only to come back and find a pot of starchy sludge. It’s a dish that loves to be loved. You only need to taste a single grain every few minutes to make sure you get it right, slightly al dente. More later 😉


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