Cooking Isn’t Creative, and It Isn’t Easy
Food, foodies and of course, everyone is a critic.
What is it about food that inspires so much passion? Why is there a slavish following around certain chefs? While there is a certain amount of imagination in coming up with new recipes or even interpretation of old favorites, isn’t cooking really more of a craft or skill than an art? Follow the recipe and the outcome is assured. Kind of like factory work, really. Think about it- every kitchen has skilled workers who do a limited number of tasks, from prep cooks to the sauciers, to the grill cooks to the bakers- and there are bread bakers and pastry chefs. Traditionally. aspiring chefs intern at the various stations to learn the skills necessary to produce a consistent product. From knife skills to cooking techniques it’s all about mastering the science and formulas of cooking.
There are guides to pairing spices to specific foods, guides to the proportions of mixing spices and flavors and guides to recipes, marinades, brines and dressings, where exactly is the real art of cooking? And when did cooking become the obsession of and province of the high and not so high falutin?
And some of the best tasting food we’ve ever (even the foodies will admit) comes from the diners, drive ins dives and grandmas’s kitchen.
Inside the renovated Le Bernardin in Midtown Manhattan, the pink flowers are as tall as dogwoods and the latticework walls give off a coppery, sci-fi sheen, and Christopher Kimball, the most influential home cook in America, prods a fork into an appetizer of Wagyu beef, langoustine and osetra caviar from China. He pulls apart the cylinder and glances skeptically inside. “I’m happier eating at Di Fara,” he claims, meaning the slice parlor in an Orthodox Jewish section of Midwood, Brooklyn, that has been occasionally hounded by the city’s Health Department. “Just real pizza,” Kimball enthuses. “No duck sausage and crap.” It’s true that he appears out of place amid the restaurant’s boardroom-in-space décor; with his bow tie, suspenders and severely parted hair, Kimball looks like someone who might’ve sold homeowners’ insurance to Calvin Coolidge.
What he does cop to enjoying about Le Bernardin is the wait staff — the thick-necked Levantine men in black tunics who start at his merest gesture and address him as “Monsieur Kim-BALL,” making everyone at the table wonder, not entirely in jest, whether they’ve been made to take French diction lessons. Kimball appreciates their formality and sheer number — the service here impresses him as serious and old-fashioned, qualities he appears to value above all. You’d probably guess as much after paging through Cook’s Illustrated, the oddly Victorian black-and-white cooking manual that Kimball began 19 years ago and continues to edit and publish every other month. For covers he favors Flemish-style oil paintings of food and illustrates recipes with spidery pen drawings and boring fonts — a look Kimball based on an antique brochure for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, believing it would make the magazine feel, in his words, “authoritative and timeless.”