Captivated by their precise knife skills, mere centimeters away from dicing away the ends of their fingers along with their pungent shallots, a little drip of saliva wets the corner of your agape mouth as you salivate at the television screen. Another cooking competition, amateur chefs battling it out to win the chance for a spot in the limelight – their own television show and monetary prize hanging in the balance – waiting to be plucked like a glistening, fat apple that catches the eye by surprise. They are one in million, or so you think.
The Food Network and all of the various food blogs, youtube channels, etc. make cooking out to be a craft – something that only the wise can grasp. Sautéing vegetables or preparing a salad are not acts of wizardry. The camera lens captures hundreds upon hundreds of chefs preparing one meal after another, many not being incredibly different in their flavor profiles, or their overall preparation and presentation. However, the common viewer sees this as too difficult a task. The preparation of food has become a mystery to many, whether stating they do not have “enough time” to cook, or vilifying themselves as a, “terrible cook.” How did our ancestors realize that strawberries tasted as sweet as they did? Who was it that discovered that these strange ears of multi-colored buttons could be unwrapped and prepared for a filling meal when boiled over a raging fire? When was it that someone paired specific herbs and spices and found them to not only be pleasant in scent, but preferable for overall health?
It didn’t take a politician, a scientist, or a genius to make these discoveries – it took an average human being experimenting with the natural world around them out of the necessity to eat. Out of the absolute necessity to eat, our ancestors from long ago found, through trial and error, what foods were safe to eat, which were more flavorful, and which provided specific flavor profiles – either being sweet or bitter, providing a light or heavy mouthfeel, and either tasting delicate or earthy. So why is it that now, in this day and age, where spices, vegetables, grains, and meat from across the world are so easily accessible, the tools of experimentation laid out before us within the grocery store, we are either too scared to attempt to cook or believe that we do not have the time for it? Why is it that we allow ourselves to settle for fast food – food from the freezer, torn from its cardboard box and zapped in the microwave or food unwrapped from its airtight confines and scarfed down while on the go? We are surely a society on-the-go, fed by the constant necessity for stress – whether it be education, work, or family obligations – but should we let our most necessary needs go by the wayside in the process? In the end, by allowing for the other factions of life to overtake the most basic necessities of the human condition – whether it be love, food, or sleep – we have scientifically see ever increasing problems, represented through continually growing numbers of those affected by anxiety, depression, and obesity.
Cooking is not a complex art – it can be – but it is one that all people can take part in. Just like belting out your favorite Beyoncé song in the car, or picking up a pencil and sketching the image of your island getaway while stuck in the office, you can take part in any art form if you put yourself up to no matter if you think you are awful at it or not. However, for many, the fear of failure, or being bad at the art, is what holds many back from ever rejoicing in its creation.
Getting used to the kitchen can be daunting if you are inexperienced, and it can take some time to get used to how certain vegetables should be cut or how certain meats should be braised, but those hurdles can be leapt over through experimentation. The act of experimentation is synonymous to learning – you are teaching yourself how to be comfortable with the actions you are taking. There are no rules to the art, besides the necessity for certain foods to be cooked to specific temperatures and avoid cross contamination of certain raw foods, for the sake of avoiding avoidable health problems, but other than that you have your ingredients at hand to test out. Like a scientist in a lab, you can measure certain spices, mixing and matching, and find your perfect flavor profile. You can roast vegetables or meats in a variety of different ways and taste the pleasurable outcomes. You can even mix different frozen fruits together in a blender and see how they taste when blended in a smoothie. The end products of all of these experiments may not be the most pleasurable to the palate, but that’s fine! Just like your long-dead ancestors, you are learning what works best when you are working with what you have at hand. Maybe adding 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper was a bit too much spice for your chicken marinade and now you’ll wonder if your nose will ever stop running and if your mouth will ever stop stinging, but the fact is that now you know!
By getting in the kitchen and accepting the risk of failure, you are allowing yourself to learn what works best, and put simply – you are proving that you can cook.