This article isn’t meant to frighten, but to reassure. Any cook worth her biscuits (or gourmet worth his soufflé), has similar stories to relate whether they admit to them or not. I’m of the belief that a lot of cooking, particularly what constitutes “gourmet,” is purposively clouded in mystery and made to seem a good deal more complicated than it really is. This sort of behavior isn’t limited to French chefs. I remember that there used to be an older member of a southwest Virginia congregation who was always the first to volunteer her recipes when people invariably “ooohed and aahed” over her infamous dishes. Even those who religiously followed her recipes found the results decidedly lacking. So, the game then began to try and guess what ingredient or ingredients she had deliberately omitted.
I’m not sure why some people operate this way. Perhaps it’s a means to prop up their egos or make them seem like better cooks than they actually are. Certainly, exclusive vocabularies are often a means to set aside a group of people as “special.” Ridiculously difficult to locate ingredients are another way to accomplish the same task. Please let’s not even publish a recipe that requires an ingredient that can only be collected in a dark French cavern, 200 ft. under the surface of the earth during a waxing moon in a month that contains an “R.” Long lengthy two or three-day long recipes (that don’t involve pickles) are another flag that more than a wee bit of pomposity might be involved.
So, amid all the traps strewn about to steal your cooking confidence, don’t let any of these be one of your reasons to throw up your hands, give up your efforts, and go buy a Quarter Pounder. Believe me, if I can learn to cook, anyone can. Learn to see through these ruses, keep up your efforts, and keep a sense of humor. The latter might be the most important.
A big blank book or scrapbook might be the second-most useful “tool” for you, before any of the fancy and expensive cooking accoutrements. Rip out recipes, paste or tape them in, and be sure to scribble in your substitutions, time adjustments, and other notations.
In my cooking career, I’ve managed to (briefly) serve an autumn soup in a hollow baked pumpkin tureen. Someone was just getting the camera ready to preserve the moment when the object d’art collapsed in on itself and there went that course. At least one early chicken was baked with the little bag of organ meat still in the body cavity and another large piece of meat – a roast or ham or something – demonstrated lightening speed across a tilted platter on its way to the floor. I’ve learned the hard way to add lots and lots of water to dried beans, to crack eggs into a separate container before adding to the recipe, and not to set a hot glass casserole onto even a slightly cool metal trivet. Even as a kid, I wasn’t immune to these adventures. I once managed to tangle up a hand mixer all the way up my long hair to my scalp – much to the hilarity of my family.
Collect your own mishaps, your own stories, during your cooking adventures. Even Julia Child once served a turkey she’d dropped on the kitchen floor. It happens to the best of us.
Cooking is both complicated and fairly simple and often at the same time.