Anyway...I'm not going to make a habit of cross-posting content from my newspaper column on this site. However, I decided to post my most recent column because I thought it might interest those of you who have given positive feedback on some on my more philosophical treatments on this thing we call cooking.
Resolving to learn about
I learned decades ago that New Year's resolutions about things that had to be achieved within the new year are doomed to fail. I thought long and hard about why I failed to live up to most of the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the new year, and came to the conclusion that the reason lay in my core belief that goals that have a definite beginning and end point are dumb.
I recognized that the platonic idea that life is a process of "becoming" or striving towards an ideal Utopian state is correct and that my life is about moving in the direction of a desired state of being. There is no arrival because there is no end point (utopia literally means "no-place" in Greek). So it's foolish to make resolutions that are meant to be achieved within a specific amount of time. Now when I make New Year's resolutions (or any resolutions) I don't put a termination date on them.
Now I understand that I am not in a position to tell anyone what to do. But if there are any of you out there who have made resolutions to learn to cook or improve your cooking, you might consider taking a platonic approach to getting ( "not-getting" is more accurate, I suppose) to where you would like to be.
First of all, consider that cooking is not an activity that has a specific beginning or a definite end. Does the cooking begin when you turn on the stove and put on your apron or at the moment when you decided that you wanted to make chicken for dinner and began to think about how you will prepare it? I can't answer that question and I doubt anyone can (to my satisfaction anyway).
Cooking is nothing more or less than an activity that involves the conception, acquisition, preparation and serving of food. And if you cook and think about cooking every day, what you soon discover is that it becomes a lot like breathing, when you are active you breath faster than when you are relaxed but you are always breathing. In other words cooking becomes a type of life process.
So if you want to begin to cook or improve your cooking focus on learning and refining the process. Never mind about trying to make the perfect omelet. (There is no objective way to describe and identify such a thing anyway, so why bother?) Rather, resolve to focus on learning about what eggs are and how they cook and how to mix them, how hot to get the pan and so on.
If you concentrate on learning as much as you can about the ingredients and work on learning and refining the techniques that are used to transform them into the dish you want to prepare, as long as you have a good idea of how you want the final dish to look, you'll be fine. Plus, since cooking techniques are almost never specific to one dish (for example, thousands of recipes require that something be sauteed) each time you concentrate on refining a given technique for one dish you are working to perfect it for every other dish that requires that technique.
Now for some really good news to kick off 2009.
Once you acquire a comprehensive understanding of ingredients and all the techniques of cooking, as long as you know how you want something to look and taste, you won't need recipes for anything other than the most complicated dishes. So you can sell or give away most of your cookbooks, stop reading recipes (Is there anything more boring to read than a recipe?) and just cook.