July 10, 2009

Anyone Can Cook

Is it true that anyone can cook? A lot of people say that they cook, and then you talk to them awhile and figure out they really don't. Kind of like playing the Wii isn't really exercising. But pseudo cooks can combine a few purchased ingredients together with some amazing skill. I always cook from scratch, but I'm also always tied to a recipe, so I'd say I'm not much of a real cook either. Yet I find that people are amazed at my love of cooking. Maybe they're just feigning interest. I doubt guys are really as excited about it as they appear. I believe that the women, on the other hand, aren't faking anything.

Are cooking skills a generational thing? Is cooking and sophisticated taste in food emerging because of a bunch of hipsters? Current food writer wisdom via Michael Pollan, John Mackey, et al. says that 20th century housewives saw the wave of processed convenience foods as liberating. No longer would they have to slave over the kitchen stove for their husband and children. Parents and children learned of the glorious TV dinner and its like. No matter how unhealthy it was, they were hooked. I don't know if that's all true or not. This blogger believes cooking is a dying art, and I'm not too sure about that either. All my girlfriends are talented cooks, talk about food with me, and try new recipes and ethnic cuisine. I guess that could mean that I just pick friends that will let me blather about what I eat and cook, or they're talented overachievers. My boyfriends know enough to at least grill a steak and some are downright impressive with their skills.

I'm trying to build and maintain a reputation around the office as a good cook. It's easy to haul baked goods by the dozen up there, but what about non-sweets? I needed a menu for today's working lunch that could be microwave-free. Not being too sure of the tastes of the person I'm serving is intimidating. What if there's an allergy? I did have a tip not to use chocolate, which eliminated the majority of my usual desserts. In the end, this is what I came up with:
Mediterranean Chicken Salad
Ciabatta Rolls
San Pellegrino Limonata
Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries


Melanie said...

As Anton Ego says, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Luckily, for those of us with predominantly Ango-Saxon origins. But I'm still one of those people who can only combine a few purchased ingredients with moderate skill.

Andrew said...

It is simply a matter of can and cannot. I would see it as a broad continum of cookery. Top chefs rarely do most of the preparation work. Did they fully cook?

I'd say women were sold the prepared food as liberating, and that more women were concerned with being generally unfulfilled the constrained gender roles when the prepared food was introduced. (There were actual back to the house govnt campaigns after WWII, since women were digging the factory jobs that the 'boys' wanted back.) If you can find it, check out the book 'The Hidden Persuaders'.

Kimberly said...

I'd say the main things you need in order to cook are technical skills and creativity/inspiration. I'm not sure where to plot the points on the continuum if someone else does your mise en place.

Laura Shapiro in 'Perfection Salad' paraphrased by Michael Pollan: When General Mills and Betty Crocker came along and they had all these new convenience foods, women resisted them. They liked cooking. They felt good about putting food that they cooked on the table. And one of the keys to selling cake mixes -- which originally were just powder and you added water, women were like, ew -- was they said all right, we'll get rid of the dehydrated egg and we'll let the women open the egg.

Thanks for the tip on 'The Hidden Persuaders.' Can I find it?!? I'll pick it up at work.

The Cooking Librarian said...

Are cooking skills a generational thing? Is cooking and sophisticated taste in food emerging because of a bunch of hipsters?

I think the way we see food (and therefore eat it) is a very generational thing depending on a variety of reasons.

I see the differences when I look at my paternal grandmother and myself in how we prepare food. I acknowledge my (our) blessings to live in a time when food is not scarce, it is cheap, and I'm in a location that receives a fairly good amount of various food stuffs.

I think with the late 19th/early 20th century population trends, moving people into cities (away from their food sources) and populating difficult territories (like the Plains) food choices really suffered. You could not get fresh anything in very a large quantity so pickling, canning, and other preservation methods were used to keep the food edible.

However, canned food also can taste horrible. My Gma's style of cooking is a very basic "make it taste good enough that you will want to eat it" which includes a lot of butter, salt, gravy, etc. Her spices were (and continue to be) salt, pepper, and occasionally paprika (for color). Her favorite salad to make is Jello salad (with bits of fruit cocktail floating through it...it's at every meal).

I feel she isn't a very good cook because to me all of her meals have such a flat range and the taste of the actual food is lost.

HOWEVER, she thinks I'm not a very good cook either because our meals at home are rarely meat centered, more often than not heated for only 15 minutes or less, and in fact are stretched over hours at a time (a bowl of soup at 5:30, a salad around 7, some grapes at 8:30 or so).

Who's right? Perhaps both?

Kimberly said...

I agree that we see food differently based on our generation, heritage, etc. I wrote that I wasn't too sure about post-WWII housewives embracing convenience foods because neither of my grandmothers did so. I've always particularly associated my paternal side of the family with delicious, very homemade food. Anecdotal, I know.

I don't mean to say that simple meals are bad. Sometimes salt and pepper are enough. It is ironic that all the added butter, gravy, etc. to Cooking Librarian's grandma's food couldn't save it. I do hope that Jello Salad had shredded carrots in it!