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.......
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!
Steamed Vongole with Eggs and Soy Sauce.
Sole Meuniere. Fresh Borlotti.
Ricotta & Praline Cream, with Strawberries.