Cooking and Baking is Subjective

This past weekend I read an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine: “Cooking Isn’t Creative, And It Isn’t Easy” by Alex Halberstadt where he interview Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated & Cook’s Country magazines.

The quote “Cooking Isn’t Creative, And It Isn’t Easy” from Mr. Kimball was used as the title.  Provoking to say the least for anyone who has spent any time in a kitchen preparing food from scratch.  My first reaction was to say “NO, Your wrong Mr. Kimball.  Cooking does provides creativity and can be easy!”  Now it’s Friday and I’ve had time to reflect on these words.  What I came up with is “Cooking and Baking Is Subjective.” just like our taste are subjective.  We know what we know because of our past experiences, our family likes, our personal likes, and our culture.

I would have to say for most people who come from a more ethic background and still are connected to the food ways of their families heritage.  Our experiences with food and cooking are very different from Mr. Kimball view point.  We think about food as more than something that sustains us.  But, rather something that feeds our connection to the past, present, and future.  My mother is not Hispanic but learned from my paternal grandmother how to cook the food she made and had learned growing up in Mexico.  My experience with Mexican food growing up was very particular to the region that my grandmother was from.  Only later in life would I understand how diverse the food ways in Mexico really are.

Memories of going to my grandparents home included my grandfather (who we called “Little Grandpa), father and mother forming a line in the breezeway of the house as we would one by one kissed my grandfather on the cheek before entering the house.  Once we were inside the smell of food cooking mixed with my grandmothers favorite cleaning solution of bleach filled the house.  My grandmother always wearing a dress covered with an apron would greeted us with a smile and the few words of English that she knew, “Eggies?” “Eat?” “Sit.” We of course were more than happy to have grandma make us anything to eat.  Grandma lived in the kitchen as far as I could tell.  In my grandma’s home it was normal to have beans on the stove all the time or dough to make fresh flour tortilla.  She never knew who would be hungry when they came to the house.  She loved us through her cooking and sharing her knowledge of cooking with my mother.  She was a teacher in her own right.  Teaching creativity and simplicity with the simplest of ingredients and the basic pieces of equipment.

When I was old enough to help in my mom’s kitchen I too learned what my grandmother taught my mother.  Techniques, processes, and recipes that produced food that made us happy.  Cooking for a family of eleven also taught me how to organize myself to have the food ready at the same time.  Lessons that I would draw on in Culinary School.

My mother taught me also about “American” staples.  Meatloaf, Salisbury Steak, Pot Roast, Fried Chicken, Creamed Tuna on toast, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Yeast Breads of all sorts.  My love for cooking and food began with all of these experiences.

At times the two worlds of cooking would come together for my family.  When we would have Chicken Mole it was always served with Mexican rice, and Potato Salad.  You might think Potato Salad?  What a strange combination with Mexican food.  In fact I know people think this to be odd combination.  The reason we had Potato Salad with Mole was it’s cooling effect from the spiciness of the chilies in the mole.  A paring that is found in many other cultures.  As in Indian cooking has the yogurt based Raitas that is served to cool your mouth after eating a spicy dish.  My mother was creative enough to combine these two dishes.  Creative and delicious. 

Baking and Cooking for me was my way of expressing my 9 year old self.  Something that I took joy in.  Not only the end result but rather process.  Reading the recipe, preparing the ingredients, combining the ingredients, seasoning, tasting, looking, touching, and feeding my family.  This experience was creative and easy once I learned how to do it.

As a Instructor and teacher it is my goal to have students learn process, technique, skills, and recipes.  Building on what they have learned to gain experience, knowledge, and confidence in the kitchen.  To not be afraid of making a mistake.  Understanding you can learn a lot from a mistake.  Becoming a good cook or baker is more than a recipe done once.  It’s the learning of a process, repetition of a process, learning the skills and practicing those skill, making mistakes and learning from your mistakes and not repeating those mistakes that will take you to the next level of cooking and baking.

This comes back to the article “Cooking Isn’t Creative, And It Isn’t Easy”  It depends how you view the world around you that you would agree or disagree with this article.  For some it is important to never fail, to be giving a recipe that they can follow and have a presentable dish to share.  But, for those of us who want to learn the life skills of cooking and baking it is about the understanding of process, technique, and skills that allow us to be creative and have fun while we are up to our elbows in dough.  I celebrate those chefs, bakers, and culinary teacher who promote these ideas.  I also like to take a moment and directly say “Thank you” to Ina Garten for her work as teacher.  Mr. Kimball aimed his sights at Ina which I found very disappointing.

I encourage you to find teacher who is passionate about what they do and learn.  Learn that you can be creative and find pleasure in cooking too.

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