“A home cook who relies too much on a recipe is sort of like a pilot who reads the plane’s instruction manual while flying.” – Alton Brown, The Food Network
When I first started cooking, I stuck faithfully to the words and measurements provided on the recipe, no matter what. The only way that I could function in the kitchen was to have my recipe right there on the counter next to me at all times, practically glued to my hand. If I, heaven forbid, accidentally added too much or too little of an ingredient, the entire batch had to be thrown out.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as when I first started out I had a very limited palette and had no sense of good flavor pairings. Had I not stuck to the recipe, no doubt I would have ended up with some pretty funky-tasting meals. Baking is also more of a precise science than simply mixing together ingredients. It typically involves an application of heat, setting into motion a series of chemical reactions that (hopefully) leave you with something delicious to eat, as long as you did everything right!
However, sticking exactly to the recipe is not always the way to go; a chef should rely on his or her own natural instincts and ability to create distinctive and yummy concoctions. How do you think Penicillin or the Reese’s peanut butter cup (pure genius) were invented?! Definitely not by sticking to a recipe, I’ll tell you that.
So, my advise to you readers is simply do you. If, like me, you need that recipe as a safety blanket at all times, by all means keep it there. There is no need to add anxiety into the mix when cooking. However, once you start to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and get to know your own taste buds a little better, I encourage you to throw out your recipe every once in a while. Ok, maybe not throw it away completely, but look away from it. Unglue it from your hand, if you will. Add a little more of a certain spice if you know you’re a fan of the flavor. Use low-fat milk instead of whole if you know you’ll feel less guilty eating the final product. The confidence you’ll gain from creating a uniquely scrumptious dish will make it entirely worthwhile.
Having mentioned in my last post that Nick recently decided to (gasp!) cook one of his first-ever meals, I wanted to give some advice to any readers who might be relatively new to the kitchen. But sometimes I feel I am slightly under qualified to give anyone expert advice on subject. I, after all, received no formal training other than spending hours and hours in the kitchen with my mother. Instead of always rambling on from my own limited experience, I would rather pass on advice from someone who actually studied the art of cooking, and who lived, breathed, and ate (literally) their work. So, again, I look to my good friend (I wish) Julia Child for my cooking quote of the day:
”This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun” –Julia Child
Frequently, we (myself included) forget that cooking should be about having fun. Recipes are simply a road map for your own personal culinary adventures; you choose the path you want to take. One should always be able to get something more out of cooking than just nourishment. For me, it is how I (at least try to) escape the chaos of life around me, my to-do lists and my anxieties. For you, it can be whatever you’d like. Cooking is yours. Do with it what you will, just don’t ever be afraid to try it.
I came across another great quote that really speaks to the mindset of a good chef:
“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” – Harriet Van Horne
Harriet Van Horne was a famous newspaper columnist and film and television critic throughout the mid 1900s. I studied her work as a Journalism major at BU, admiring her passion and unique voice, and was pleased upon hearing that she also liked to cook. The way she describes cooking is like an all-consuming relationship; if you are not willing to devote yourself entirely to the process, you shouldn’t make the commitment at all.
This made me think about my own habits in the kitchen. Though I am always enjoying the cooking process and I go about it very methodically, which has a therapeutic effect, my mind is in a million other places at the same time (probably why my kitchen always ends up looking like a war zone once I’m finished in it). Wouldn’t it be even more beneficial mentally if I were to simply clear my mind before even stepping foot in the kitchen, leaving everything else behind and focusing solely on the ingredients and my methods? In this way, cooking has the potential to become an entirely holistic experience, enriching mind, body, and spirit. No doubt my recipes and my kitchen would be in better shape for it, as well.
Just something to nibble on.
Whenever I am in need of some inspiration to keep me going, I find I can always turn to the late, great Julia Child. Today, for instance, I was feeling pretty stressed about my workload for this semester, the amount I’d gone over on my budget this month, and my mile-long to do list. I kept thinking about all the tasks that I had to get done, but that I really dreaded doing (if any of you have read the story about the mayonnaise jar, these tasks would be the sand). Suddenly, I was struck by a quote that I remembered from Julia Child’s My Life in France.
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
I realized that I am constantly thinking, worrying, obsessing about completing minimal tasks, check-marks on my to-do list, when, instead, I should be make time for the important things, my passions. These passions, after all, are what make life worth living. They fulfill us in a way that simply crossing an item off a to-do list ever possibly could. We should all devote a little more time to “keeping tremendously interested” in something, anything, that makes us happy.
Just some food for thought.