Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ready, Set, Cook. But When?

Since cooking is now woven into the continuum of my perception of reality, it always seems a bit odd to write about it as if it was a discrete activity that takes place in a kitchen or around a campfire and has an identifiable beginning and end point.

Of course, I have not always thought about cooking as an indistinct process.

There was a time when I thought that cooking was something that began with the preparation of the ingredients and ended when the food was plated. Later, after I had begun to create dishes in my mind prior to their physical construction, I realized that this too was part of the cooking process and, darnit, it was just silly to think that something like cooking (or any process really) could be perfectly delimited in space and time.

However, just because I may be convinced that something is silly, does not mean that I don't do it -albeit slightly.

Since I began working at the farm I tend to think that any cooking I do there begins outside of the kitchen. There is no one place or time that it starts. One day the start point might be in the barn where the chickens roost and incubate (in vain, I should add) the eggs that I am planning to turn into a flan or beet infused pickle. Or it might begin out behind the dairy barn where the bull calf in the photo above is being born.
(See much more here.)

Until recently I was not convinced that there was any advantage to having a fungible understanding of when cooking begins. But that was because I had not yet considered the disadvantage of doing the opposite and arbitrarily saying that cooking -and by extension the work of the cook- begins and ends in the kitchen.

The disadvantage of saying that cooking is something that begins and ends in the kitchen is that if you believe it then cooking becomes an extremely limited intellectual enterprise. I mean, how many of us are really going to be happy chopping, sauteing, braising etc. all day everyday? But expand your definition of when cooking begins to include at least the admission that you cannot be sure, and the work becomes endlessly fascinating as your curiosity takes you out of the kitchen and into the world in search of everything you think you need to know in order to be the very best cook you can be.

That's way cool.


Ulla said...

awesome. awesome entry!:)

Cameron S. said...

Very well said Bob.

Tags said...

Perhaps it would be easier to wrap our minds around it if we substitute "nourish" for "cook."

Ben said...

Bob, You are touching on how I was raised to look at the whole thing as life. We had a big garden and chickens in our yard when I was a kid so we would eat better. God, I hated all that work. But my parents knew what they were doing. I can remember my Dad bringing home all sorts of game, and occasionally half a pig, which we somewhat merrily made into our family dinners. Cooking started when we started our seeds in March I think. Now, in 2008, I think I am lucky to be raised in the old way. Back then, I wanted to live with someone else's parents.

Walt said...

I'm serving a dinner this weekend has been in preparation for months. I'll be serving homemade duck proscuitto, breseola and pepperone. I've preserved lemons and made the vinegar for the salad. The herbs will come from our own garden and we've even infused vodka to make the drinks. Cooking? Definitely...Nourishing? Absolutely... The process Bob describes here nourishes the mind as well as the soul. Excellent post Bob, and kudos to tags for a great comment.

redredsteve said...

Bob, I love your philosophical, dare I say it, even spiritual approach to cooking. For a long time I've enjoyed cooking and made many emotional connections to it. I've raised pigs and gone through the entire slaughtering/butchering process, albeit only once (I'm just a city boy, afterall). I've felt those connections but you take it to a whole 'nother level. Now I find myself sitting and thinking, that's it, just thinking, about food a lot. About who we are, what we eat, and everything in between. As I read books like The Physiology of Taste I feel as though I'm being "enlightened," instead of just learning as was my original intention. Is this... growing up? ;)

Bob del Grosso said...

Ulla, Cameron

I've thought about sub-ing that word too, but I prefer to stick to cook because it's more challenging.

As a parent (and former kid) your story about wanting to live with someone else's parents hit me hard. Thanks

And thank you for the kind words Walt. I'm not sure I deserve them but I'll take them anyway.

I sounds to me like you are a man on fire. Use it and enjoy it. I burn up a lot too, although familial obligations often conspire to temper the heat so it's not as much fun as it was when I only had to answer to myself. I'm not complaining, mind you, but I am a little bit envious of where you are right now.

Finally, I don't think of my approach as spiritual as much as I think of it as pragmatic. But I can see how it may come across differently.

Maura said...

A friend said recently that the only thing she really loves about cooking is the end result. This shocked the hell out of me, because she's a really good cook. I assumed she thought more about it. Not that the end result isn't a big old thrill.

I love this post, Bob. It makes me feel like less of a dork, with my mulling and pondering, and "getting to thinking" about some thing or another, and standing at the counter watching the yeast proof. I've never slaughtered an animal, and I don't know that I ever will. But I know cooking is about more than just throwing things into a pan, heating it for a while and then eating it. So, you know, baby steps. :)