Last week i went skiing, in a fully catered chalet in France. The chef was amazing. He’d been a finalist on Masterchef and, to be honest, was a better cook than me.
My cooking tends to be functional. Don’t get me wrong, i’m not averse to creativity in cooking; sometimes i use fresh tomatoes rather than tinned and, once or twice, i’ve even made pastry myself, but, if i’m brutally honest about it, i’m unlikely to make it onto Masterchef.
I’ve never drizzled balsamic vinegar around the plate in a complex chequer pattern and i’ve certainly never done to an egg what he managed to do before breakfast in the morning. My skills are definitely functional, his aesthetic.
I think i probably could learn to be a better cook, at least, i could learn to be a better functional cook, simply by challenging myself a bit. I mean, i tend to do the same things over and over again. I buy the same ingredients and cook the same dishes. i’ve never bought an artichoke in my life and i wouldn’t know whether to boil it or roast it if i did. Part of the skill in being an aesthetically successful chef is clearly knowing what goes with what, knowing how ‘tastes’ come together, what complements what, and what should be avoided. Clearly my signature student dish of pasta and ketchup achieved some success on this scale, but it wasn’t as good as his vegetable korma.
So, part of the success of good cooking must be experience, knowing what goes with what and, of course, how to cook it. Once i cooked aubergine. I had read how it was stuffed full of toxins and, following some extensive research, that you had to get out by packing it with salt for an hour and then rinsing it off, which i diligently did. When explaining the elaborate and clever way in which i’d cooked this to my mother subsequently, she said ‘oh, yes, you’re supposed to do that, but i never have and it’s never done you any harm…’. So much for research.
Knowing how to cook things and knowing what goes with something else; well, that’s a start, but there’s still more to it than that. It’s like knowing that mixing blue and yellow will give you green. It’s not going to make you a great painter. Functionally, you’re half way there, but aesthetically, you’ve not even got into the game yet.
Maybe the missing ingredient is passion? Not very scientific i know, but the point is that i’m not really all that interested in cooking. I am, at heart, purely functional. I like a good meal and i enjoy cooking for friends, but if you told me it was going to take more than an hour to cook, i’d head for the freezer. The chef last week told me that, after he had finished for the night, he would watch people cooking on YouTube, read books and write down his ideas. Maybe this passion is what makes a difference. Functionally, i’m already there, but aesthetically, i’m still in the ready meal aisle.