I love to cook. I was always fairly good at it, although my love for it has only blossomed recently. But what inspired that love? How did cooking become something I enjoy doing rather than something I do because I have to?
I’ve recently come to realize that cooking is a lot like painting, drawing, or writing a story. When cooking, I have a basic idea of what I need; kind of like a sketch or an outline. Then I build from there. I look to my spice cabinet, or to the things sitting in the refrigerator. How will I enhance the flavor? Should I throw some allspice or some cinnamon into that beef dish? What will that celery that I should soon use add to the chicken?
This is why I prefer cooking to baking. With baking, I have to follow the recipe. The risk of messing up a cookie if I get too creative is much greater than that involved when adding an extra flavor to a roast. Baking is science. Cooking is art. When I’m frustrated with a painting or have a case of writer’s block, I cook. Things seem to clear a little after making an excellent dinner.
It’s a cliché, I know. But that secret ingredient truly is love. How is it that my mother’s recipes never taste as good when I make them for myself as they do when she makes them for me? Love. Why is it that I can make a turkey at any time of year, but it never comes out as well as the one I make for my fiancé and me at Thanksgiving? Love. Envisioning the satisfaction and happiness of those I love when they take the first bite of a dinner I prepared truly inspires me. I love making them happy, and that makes me a better cook.
I come from an overall competitive family and each member is an excellent cook. Each person has a dish that he or she does better than anyone else in the family. A common quote during family gatherings is, “Dad, keep your fingers out of Mom’s baked beans; and Mom, don’t even breathe near Dad’s potato salad.” My brother, who has worked in a number of kitchens, often sits in the family kitchen with a raised eyebrow and a cocky grin commenting on how he would have prepared something differently. Food is something we take seriously in my family; seriously enough to make it a competition. It’s a competition I’m proud to have entered.
Just Be Inspired
No matter what the inspiration: artistic expression, love, or competition, great cooking is inspired cooking. Find your inspiration and go for it!