Anyone can cook. Heat+Food=Cooking. It’s not exactly E=MC2. But not everyone who picks up a saute pan can win a James Beard award. So what’s the difference between cooking and cooking well?
Only those who can cook well are able to communicate something with their food.
The meals we remember most are the ones that told a story using only the silent phonemes of spice and salt and steam. In fact, mastering the art of cooking is a little like becoming fluent in a second language. It’s an advanced form of communication, a delicious kind of telepathy. You may not utter a single word when you present your food at the table, but you won’t need to. The food on that plate is doing all the talking for you. And time and time again, you’ll find that the best food always speaks with the voice of the cook who made it.
Say you order blanquette de veau at a restaurant. That dish, the very existence of that item on the menu, tells you everything you need to know about the chef. He’s got respect for classic French cooking, finds solace in Old World flavors, and has complete confidence in his cooking abilities. Otherwise, there’s no way he’d be able to serve you an entirely white plate of food without a sprig of parsley in sight.
If a beautiful woman invites you over to her place for oysters and steak, she’s revealing her appetite, her love of rich foods that heap pleasure upon pleasure. And if the lights are turned down low, chances are that another type of pleasure is in store for you as well. Food is foreplay of the highest order, and a beautifully composed plate can be more enticing than any dirty word whispered in your lover’s ear.
And that massive bowl of mac and cheese your mom always makes when you come home to visit? That’s love. But you already knew that. That simple bowl says “No matter how old you get, I’ll always be here for you.” That simple bowl transforms her love into something tangible, and it’s why your mom’s food will always taste the best.
When you cook well, you reveal your innermost self. You present your dishes, and your food tells your life story. “This is who I am. This is where I come from. These are the things that are important to me.”
What does it mean to cook well? Just this: you’ll always know just what to say, and when to say it. You can say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or even just “Life is good”. And you can do it all without saying a word.
(NB: This was originally submitted to Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw Challenge.)