Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why Cook?

After a weekend of definite culinary failures (and a success or two) I started to question my love of cooking. Why bother cooking for oneself when it is so often disappointing and not worth the effort? Not to mention the massive pile of dishes waiting for you afterwards. What is the point of putting yourself through all that pain when at the end you will achieve, at best, mediocrity? The reason is that once in a while, you can make a dish that is, for lack of a better word, transcendental. A dish that takes you out of your secular world of “to-do’s”, telecommutes, and T.V. dinners and lifts you into the sacred world of culinary bliss.

Sometimes great food is intentional; it is a planned and precise process with careful steps and exact measurements. In my experience, however, the best food is stumbled upon by accident. Perhaps it’s the omission of an ingredient either in error or out of necessity, or perhaps it’s the modification of instructions to fit my own tools, kitchen, or lifestyle, or maybe it’s just sheer luck under which I stumble upon some of my greatest culinary successes. Either way I can resolutely declare that for me, it is not intentional. But when it happens….oh when it happens it’s as though the culinary gods have poked their heads down through the clouds of mashed potatoes and whipped cream with their hot chocolate mustaches and smiled down at me for just one second.

Of course, reality always follows these moments of fancy (whipped cream would make terrible clouds!) and I realize that it is a combination of success and failure that help us to become great cooks. Without failure, I would never learn that when a recipe says “sit over night” it damn well means it! Without success, however, I would’ve given up after my hundredth broken yolk and never learned how to properly fry an egg. As with all pastimes, cooking must be rewarding or it will never become a passion and it must be daunting or it will never push you to succeed.

Why cook? I could say that it is because I love the challenge, because everyone needs to eat, or because I am a glutton for punishment. The truth is, however, that yearn for those moments of transcendental consumption, the moments that resolve existential crisis and connect me to the universe, the moments that tell me who I am, where I belong, and whether or not my dish needs more salt.

(photo not taken by me)

1 comment:

Jennifer Innes said...

Reminds me of a segement on NPR, especially with that ending. :)