Cooking in a word

May 9, 2009

If I had to sum up the cooking experience, what single word should I use?

It’s always a challenge and a danger to reduce something to a word, so why should I even go through the exercise of categorizing something so dear to my heart?
Well as it sometimes happens, the destination is surpassed by the voyage. Maybe trying to explain what cooking is will give me more insights on why or how I like it?

The things I like about cooking are diverse, I’ll try to draw a sketch of an enjoyable cooking session.

  • I have a purpose, a guide.
    It doesn’t necessarily have to be a recipe, it can be an ingredient that just wants to be used, or a mood I want to express.
  • I’m preparing the ingredients beforehand (only the main ones if there’s no recipe), and spread them before me.
    Far from being a ritual, the view of the raw matter still is satisfactory, gives me my cue.
  • Apron, knives, cutting board, bin are readied
  • Once I begin, I always use the same hand (the right one) to cut, move the ingredients from board to bowl to saucepan.
    The purpose of this is to always keep a hand clean (the left one). It’s a old habit no one taught me, I find it convenient and helps me save time: I can cut onions, peel vegetables, cut them, put them in the frying pan, add spices, then cut some meat, add it to the vegetables quicker (I think) than if I used both hands to manipulate the ingredients. You could call it a habit, I suppose.
  • I try not to multiply utensils.
    If a bowl was used to measure flour, I’m reusing it for the milk, then the eggs.
    Apart from additional dish washing, the main reason for this is to avoid clutter, which is one of the things that can downright spoil my cooking experience: the view of a sink and table full of stacked bowls, plates and unemptied saucepans makes me cringe
  • Cleaning during the preparation
    When I didn’t have a dishwasher, this rule was paramount, but I still apply it now. When no more cutting is required, I wash the board and knife while the cut ingredients are starting to sizzle. As soon as the pressure cooker is closed, I clean the table, and utensils. It is a very peaceful and fulfilling moment to know your dish is still cooking, and the kitchen doesn’t show any signs of cooking activity.
    Like magic.
  • Multitasking and optimizing
    Using the oven to bake entrée and dessert, while the pot-au-feu steams away doesn’t fail to bring a smile. Good timing is knowing the onions you just put to sizzle will give you enough time to prepare the meat; when it happens, I am rewarded with a sense of … destiny? Things were supposed to happen just this way!

All this being said, is there a word to sum it all up?
Expertise? Assurance? Obsessiveness?

As I’m writing this, I think I just discovered a fitting word after all.
It is not really a word describing the way I cook, but a broader qualifier for the mood I’m in when my cooking’s fun and satisfying (for me and the people I cook for).
This is it, the restaurant is the place where all this happens; being efficient, caring for others, always thinking ahead and getting ready for the next order.

(I should have realized this long ago, since my parents have been in the business as long as I can remember,  but you know, sometimes obvious realizations are harder to attain)