Dear Friends and Cooking Comrades,
Welcome back home!
There’s an expression, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” A cliché essentially meaning that there has to be a leader in the kitchen – a visionary; a final arbiter on any task. I guess that’s why there are executive chefs.
Yes, when cooking with someone else in the kitchen, there can be power struggles over the salt shaker, or the best way to cut an onion. I have some wonderful friends that I love, who are control freaks in the kitchen (kind of like me). There is no give, or exchange, or flexibility when cooking together. So we don’t.
I have other friends that when we cook together we have a shared vision for a fantastic meal. We work together to accomplish the meal as a whole and it is an incredible experience right down to the eating and even doing the dishes together. I know some couples and family members who happily cook together in concert with the beauty of a choreographed dance; everyone with a task and a goal.
Food police, picky kids, grumpy spouses, a mean mother-in-law, or well-meaning, but bossy friends can all question us and discourage our creativity in the kitchen; forcing their culinary agendas on us. It’s nice to stay flexible because we can learn from each other, but it’s not nice to get bulldozed and micromanaged in your own kitchen. Takes the fun right out of it.
Here’s the thing of it: Cooking is interpretive. Last week we were doing a cooking demonstration and I was talking to a young cook. The beginner apprehensively said, “Chef David, I hate to say this, but I would add some spicy peppers to this dish.” He was shocked at my response. Instead of ripping his head off – and telling him it was my way or the highway and how impressive my resumé as a chef is – I said, “Hooray! That’s exactly how you should be thinking. Personalize recipes. Ask, ‘How can I make this recipe better?’ Think for yourself. If it tastes good, go for it. You are the cook!”
Someone once said a recipe is a blueprint or a guide, not a prescription that has to be followed to a “T.” (I suppose the exception is baking, which requires that we measure and follow a recipe more accurately until we have it down pat – and then we can monkey with it.) Make recipes your own.
Anyone who claims they have the one and only way to delicious food – a culinary messiah – needs a real ego check. There’s more than one way to dance a tango! There are avant gardist that want to create smoke with the fragrance of roast chicken. I admire them, but personally I would rather roast a chicken. There are purists who want to make a recipe in the absolute traditional fashion without any additions or modern touches. I also admire them for being archivists, but I personally can’t avoid updating classics. There are cooks that want to try and reinvent food, and thank heaven for them. I just want to teach folks to make food that tastes good. I know my style, I know my mission and I know my palate. And you will too.
Whatever your cooking style, as it starts to emerge and reveal itself, don’t forget that the goal is to make food that tastes good. The first question should be, “How does it taste?”