Saturday, 11 August 2007

Ok.....So What IS 'Cooking'?......


Not for the first time, I was prompted to ponder this point most recently by something I heard on the radio. Glyn Christian was extolling the virtues of microwave ovens on the basis that they are healthier than conventional ovens - since they cook vegetables without losing any of the goodness - and that they're better for elderly knees, since they cut down the amount of time spent standing up in the process of preparing a meal. Lindsay Bareham in response was trying and failing miserably to articulate the point that notwithstanding these unarguable benefits, the thing about microwaves is that......they just aren't anything to do with cooking!

Which begs the question. What is cooking? And then trails in its wake the subsidiary question as to why cooking is a good thing, and why not-cooking is therefore not a good thing...

I don't have a thesis on this. It isn't an issue on which I have achieved clarity in my thinking.

The easiest thing is to start off with what cooking is NOT. It isn't:
  • Re-heating supermarket ready-meals, disinterred from their packing......
  • Pouring boiling water into instant soup, or Pot Noodles....
  • Adding an Egg to a Betty Crocker cake mix.......
  • Sandwiches.....or
  • Microwaves!

Difficult, though. Where does that leave, say, making ice cream but with a pre-prepared custard? Or using a stock-cube for Gravy? (Or indeed the concept of 'gravy' itself - a substance for which no other language appears to have a direct translation!)

Perhaps cooking is more a state of mind than a series of physical actions - or at any rate, a particular state of mind is part of the process? For instance, cooking must surely involve an interest in food as more than merely a means of keeping body and soul together. Yup - I think we can tick that one. For me, I think it also has to have an element of "Home & Hearth' about it, but I readily accept that's a personal criterion (there isn't much 'Home & Hearth' about Gordon Ramsay, but I wouldn't deny his credentials as a Cook.....) and I think there has to be a degree of passion in the process (which - again personally - leaves Delia the wrong side of the line; her approach has always seemed to me to be based on the idea that as long as food isn't positively inedible then that's ok. What on earth do you make of somebody who's most fulsome word of praise appears to be 'Nice'???)

Working from basic raw materials has to be somewhere in the definition, as well.....as does a readiness to roll up your sleeves and get up-close with whatever it is you're pummelling, or chopping, or boning ......

Wine is definitely in there, too. Do teetotallers ever make good cooks? (It's a question, not a statement - before I get shot down in flames!)

Ok. Far too complicated a subject to have begun at this time of evening, as I have to go and commit culinary in order to get dinner on the table. (It got me nicely through a bellini, and a small plate of of paprika-roasted almonds, though........). So, I guess I'll just have to leave it hanging. No answers..........but I think I instinctively know what I mean. I may not be able to present an articulate definition of what cooking is, but I can sure as hell recognise it when presented with an example of what it isn't!

Tonight's Dinner:

Steamed Vongole with Eggs and Soy Sauce.

Sole Meuniere. Fresh Borlotti.

Ricotta & Praline Cream, with Strawberries.

6 comments:

Joanna said...

SO interesting to find this post, as we had a discussion the other day about whether or not it was okay to eat in the street ... I said not, the young said they couldn't see why not, and I made inarticulate (and cross!) remarks about how it was the thin end of the wedge, and really you needed to sit down together to a meal which had been properly cooked - and the whole family thought I was mad. It is all interconnected, and strangely hard to articulate, and I decided yesterday that I would have a try after thinking it through (which may take weeks). I am not sure whether to be comforted or in despair that you and Lindsay Bareham have also found this tricky to explain.

On microwaves - not quite nothing to do with cooking, so long as you realise that they are actually a form of steamer, so good for blandly steamed vegetables or fish, but not much else. We really only use ours for heating milk, and I find I don't even do that any more since I relegated it to the scullery.

Joanna

Pomiane said...

Odd, isn't it, that it's so difficult to pin down. You'd think it wouldn't be, and then actually try and do it.....!

I had the 'not eating in the street' drummed into me as a child.....which means that I very occasionally do it, almost because I had it drummed into me so firmly at the time, I suspect...

The one good use I've found for microwaves (apart from re-heating coffee, of course) is to re-heat yesterday's risotto for lunch. It does a passable imitation of the first-time-round version.....

The Passionate Palate said...

I believe there are many out there who, like you, intuitively understand the definition (or process or act of creation) of cooking. I think that some of the most beautiful objects and acts in the world are those for which words can do no justice. Food, like wine, is one of those rare things that is a process of taking something found in nature and transforming it with skill and art (even if it is a simple transformation) into something more than what it was. I have thought much about this with wine, and like cooking, it is almost a magical, alchemical process. And most certainly, a microwave has nothing to do with cooking/creation! (And I do have to be careful when re-heating risotto in a pan or I end up scrubbing a lot in the end!)

Toffeeapple said...

Glyn Christian is no cook, he always used to put fruit on everything he made! And Delia is the most boring cook in the world.

Pomiane said...

Hmm.....P.P. I think words HAVE to be able to do justice to the concept - that's what words are for. The point is surely to be able to find the right ones.....

T.A: I don't actually know much about Glyn Christian. I have a vague memory of him on TV occasionally, twenty years or more ago. Rather etiolated and energetic, as I recall. And as for Delia, for me she represents the antithesis of all the adjectives that spring to mind when thinking about what food OUGHT be about: rich, sensual, edgy, exciting.....

But perhaps I'm being unfair?

Toffeeapple said...

Not at all unfair, I'm in complete agreement. How anyone so dis-passionate about food has made the kind of living that she has is beyond my comprehension.