Monday, June 7, 2010

Mastering the freedom in the kitchen

One of the goals I set for myself with this blog is to help get people back in their own kitchens, cooking and enjoying the process as well as the results. In order to do that, I asked myself: “Why don’t people cook?” Yes, there’s the obvious lack of time. Really there is nothing I can do about that. How about lack of knowledge? Now here’s something I can put a positive dent in; lack of skill? Practice makes perfect as in any case and the skill level will go up with time. Intimidation? Now here is the key to it all, I believe. Most people will not attempt any kind of culinary creation because they are… afraid. Yes, it’s true. Grown-ups are afraid to try anything that has to do with anything besides their microwave. And why is that, you might ask. Simply because they think they cannot do it. As the great saying goes, he who thinks he CAN’T and he who thinks he CAN are both usually right.

One of the greatest foodie movies ever made happens to be animated: Ratatouille. Named after the traditional Provencal dish, this movie is the epitome of the phrase “anyone can cook”; and that phrase is the premise of the entire movie. A rat, normally enemy of the kitchen, becomes a culinary superstar. So now, are you still afraid to try?

The skill of cooking is divided into two worlds: the technical and the sensual and those two ideally grow and develop side by side assisting one another to expand.

By technical, I mean the actual skill of cutting, chopping, sautéing, boiling, blanching, baking, braising, grilling, steaming, seasoning… AHHH! There is so much to know but don’t let that scare you off. Allow that to fuel your fire of knowledge. You will only know as much as you want to know and everything will come gradually. It is easy to get to a reasonable level very quickly. And of course, anything that is executed well will encourage more doing, right?

The second aspect is the sensual one. By sensual, I mean the use of all senses to enhance the experience of both cooking and eating: tasting, smelling, touching, looking, listening, and of course -- that added factor of… well… je ne sais quoi. Sensual also expresses the intimate connection between the cook and its tools and products; a sensuality and connection that exists will always show on the finished plate. Same as with the hands-on technicality of cooking, the sensuality of it requires a lot of practice. But again, quick results are promised to those who are willing to give it a shot!

The next series of posts will be dedicated to the various cooking techniques that are used by any cook at any level, and what type of product suits each technique. Along with each description, I will provide an approachable demo and recipe that will surely help with the understanding. There is no better learning than actually doing. And even more than that, there is no better teacher than the mistake. So just try! I can easily remember failed attempts at cooking something and after knowing the principles of these cooking techniques, I now know what I did wrong.

What I’ve noticed once I started practicing these various techniques is that I don’t need recipes anymore. At a certain point you turn away from recipes and view them as the enemy of free thought. Recipes are full of “Do this.. Don’t do that..” and before you know it you’re getting cold-sweat flashbacks from the evil kindergarten teacher, your drill sergeant in boot camp, or any authority figure that dictated your every move. Your average cookbook is the dictator in the kitchen. Another problem is that everyone’s perception is different. Your definition of medium heat is the other person’s high heat; her 1/4-cup is more like your 3/8 of a cup. If 10 people are given the same recipe and follow it to a tee by their definition, they are bound to end up with 10 different dishes. No more. Practicing simple applications will allow you to be free in the kitchen and own it. That’s where the real fun begins. No recipe, just imagination. No rules or limits, just pure inspiration and a little bit of skill. It will all come together and make perfect sense -- anyone CAN cook!!

In the next post we dive in headfirst. I will tackle the sauté technique; one that most everyone that has ever held a pan over a stove has practiced whether they realized it or not. I can’t wait!


  1. I love it! You nailed the misconception of why people claim, "I can't cook." Great article.....we missed your work.

  2. At last! Have been holding my breath waiting for your next blog - and it hasn't been easy!
    You make it sound so easy and soooooo natural. Well I guess preparing food really is natural. Its been done since the beginning of creation.
    Waiting for your saute tachnique.