Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Random question

So while talking to a friend the other day a question came up that I feel the need to document:

What makes a good cook?

So first and foremost I have to preface a few things prior to the following diatribe;
1. I refuse to use the word "Chef" unless you are trained, as in schooled, because to become a Chef is an arduous and difficult process and I don't ever want to take away from people who have withstood that task.
2. This is mostly a wording issue. It's not a reflection on anything other than me combining two of my very favorite things, words and food.

OK. So the question was as follows; if someone follows a recipe well, does that make them a good cook?

My gut reaction is no. It makes them someone who can execute well when given direction. Which, in my humble opinion, should probably be something most any adult can achieve. Granted the extent of the aforementioned recipe is a change agent, being that some recipes are incredibly difficult to execute. But for arguments sake, let's say the recipe is pretty straight forward.

In my admittedly demented and pretentious head I think of someone being a good cook when they can operate in a kitchen given just about any circumstance. Someone who without recipe's can navigate through a meal on instinct or knowledge.

While I appreciate greatly technology and use it to myself, I do think it is somewhat contributing to my point. It's so easy to prepare things that before took refined skill and practice. Now everyone's just an instrument away from having the perfectly executed whatever. It's diluting the artistry of cooking a great meal. It's all, somewhat, souless....

I make no qualms with recipes in general. I use them myself. No one who cooks doesn't. But I know some people in my life that I consider great cooks and I know some people in my life I think can cook, and the more and more I think about it the more and more I find a distinction. You can tear a page out of a cookbook, buy the ingredients, follow the step by step directions and reproduce a delicious meal having little to no concept of WHY the recipe calls for what it does, HOW the recipe came to be, WHO created the dish and WHAT makes all those flavors makes sense together.

I get that this point in history the idea of a truly original dish is sophomoric. Everything has been made at some point. We have found new ways to build it, present it, grow it etc but all in all most things have already been thought up. I get that. But I still think there is a difference between someone who KNOWS the food they are cooking and someone who KNOWS the recipe they are following.

I'm sure this stems from my overall elitist attitude and my unhealthy addiction to all things delicious. In all honesty, I think of myslef as somewhere in the middle. I can operate without recipes (in fact I usually do) but I don't know food well enough to hit a home run every time. If I followed recipes more often I would fail much less often. But for me this food thing is a journey of sorts. I like wandering the aisles of a grocery store thinking about what would taste good with the first thing I picked up. I like learning how and why things don't work together instead of knowing ahead of time. I like "creating" a dish that has no doubt been documented and is probably a 101 lesson in culinary school without knowing that's what I made. I like knowing that I am not a great cook and I like that I have to keep cooking to get any closer. And I guess most of all, I like then when I do hit a home run, it's because my instincts were right, my concept was good, and my execution didn't let me down.

Or maybe I really am just that damn snobby....

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