Attempts, tries, uncertainty. Cooking and baking are full of risk. Risk of time and precious ingredients—the milk of a mother cow, eggs from an over-worked, over-laying chicken, beautiful produce that takes so much time to plant and grow, farmers’ energy and precious natural resources. The monetary value, the purchasing of the ingredients, as well as the research and time. The shopping. Oy, the shopping. No wonder I have this sense of incredible responsibility every time I try a new recipe, every time I try a new idea. This is the inherent anxiety that can come along with cooking. And it can keep talented, well meaning chefs out of the kitchen, all because of the fear of risking failure.
I tell myself, my staff at the restaurant and my children that this is part of it. I’m not just talking about cooking here—you have to risk failure, be the best steward of the resources you have, be thoughtful, mathematical, scientific and conscientious. But do not over-think it, because cooking is an education without a timeline. It is a process of always learning, always staying curious. You have to take notes and change the process from the last attempt, adjust ingredients, lengthen or shorten cooking time and learn from your mistakes or outcomes. Go by not what is right or wrong, but rather what you liked and didn’t like. You are a scientist of living organisms and molecules, and they will react differently with each variation. Like other forms of mastery, you will serve your 10,000 hours, fail and succeed, fail and succeed. You can get the participation ribbon and pretend if you like. Or, you can raise the bar-pay attention to the nuance of the food you have made and be honest. Take honest stock of your work. Get mad. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Good food is worth it.
Years ago, I apprenticed for an Italian pastry chef in a very high end and busy bakery in Los Angeles, California. She would watch my learning curve. I would cringe every time I threw out a large commercial size batch of genois cake. She would say, “Let it propel you to do better.” This was helpful to my insecurities. I did. I let it propel me. Years later, I found myself working as a pastry chef at a bakery, and one customer in particular would come in every day, curious why my pastries were so much better. She commented once that she finally figured it out, “Because you put your whole self into your baking!” She was right. I do that. I dig deep into myself every time. This is not an avocation for me. It is everything. I always want to do better. I always have more to learn, and from that standpoint, I learn.
I am not here to tell you the ten steps to a perfect poundcake or how to turn your quin-Blah into quin-WOW. I am here to share my experience and let you know that you are not alone. Together we will turn the corner by bringing the science and the artistry, the mechanical to the humane, while separating our egos from the results.
Below is what I like to call a first date recipe. We use this at the restaurant. It is like a first date in that the ingredients are a little awkward, unfamiliar, exciting, sexy, uncertain and forgiving. A smoldering, unique use of sweet and savory ingredients, with a nice mouth feel. Like a first date, put yourself out there.
I want you to think about it. Figure it out, take notes, make this recipe yours somehow and email me back firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your experiences.
So pull out your go-box and let’s cook!
Recipe to follow: See Recipe Section
Spring Parsnip soup with Sauted rosemary apples and fried leeks