On cooking: or a polemic on over-analysis

Recently I was over at a friends apartment making dinner and I saw what a beautifully well-equipped kitchen she had. It got me thinking, or rather inspired, to take a moment and reflect on my own relationship with cooking. This reflection process got me to:

  1. deplore the lack of culinary skills in my generation,
  2. challenge my own relationship with cooking,
  3. and resolve to make positive changes in the first two.

Okay, so you probably don’t want to hear me wax on philosophically about the poor state of the culinary arts here in America, but I do feel that I have to pay some sort of lip service to it. The decline in the skillset of the average American when it comes to the kitchen has two direct and reinforcing effects. The first is clearly a basic lack of ability in the kitchen. Even simple foods and recipes become out of reach through a very real illiteracy of cooking. The other effect is less obvious while, arguably, more critical to the actual art of cooking and that’s confidence. By not cooking you fail to build your confidence, and soon it becomes all but impossible to attempt something new in the kitchen. This unfortunate fact leads those impacted making the same few meals every single day. This lack of confidence is pervasive and catastrophic to the culinary art. Move over, these two factors clearly reinforce each other such that the individual is left with no options outside the microwave directions.

As for the second point, that’s the one where I really need to redirect my energy and represents the core of this essay. Let me share a bit of a personal anecdote with you, and I promise that I’ll get back to food in just a minute. Around the time of middle school and for the first couple years of high school I became a bit obsessive over my handwriting. While to this day I still have shoddy penmanship, my obsession was not over the legibility rather than the efficiency of it. Whereas most people strive to make their letters and words nice looking, I was aiming for a minimalist style with no wasted ink or pen strokes. Admittedly it was an odd thing to focus on, but it’s what I did and my penmanship suffered for it. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized that those extra strokes of the pen which I strived to safe off were actually the bread and butter of legible handwriting.

What might this have to do with my cooking? Well, unfortunately since coming to college my cooking has followed a pattern strikingly similar to that of my handwriting. Rather than focus on the quality of the food or the finer points of technique, I have been working under the mindset of using a minimal of pans and dishes. This has rarely benefited the food, and it has naturally limited my creativity in the kitchen. Now one difference between these two episodes of minimalism was this question of degree: while in the kitchen I am happy to say that I’m not obsessed with keeping dishes to a minimum, rather it’s just one aspect.

It struck me while cooking in my friend’s apartment that this habit is idiotic for so many reasons. Not only does it inhibit my cooking, but it also represents a lot of wasteful energy gone to something completely void of joy. Cooking is fun, it should be treated as a hobby and not a chore. My habit of condensing my cooking down to virtually nothing resulted in my cooking less, enjoying it less, and getting very little out of it.