A lost art

By and large, Michael Pollan seems to have it right. What passes for cooking in most households these days has lost its gusto. We’ve forgone peeling, de-seeding, julienning, caramelising, deglazing, and all of that other kitchen toil, for the quick and dirty ‘dump and stir’. Dinner is on the table in less than thirty, all with a couple cranks of the can-opener and a bit of reheating. But how gratifying is that? If you ask me–not very.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve lost a lot for convenience’s sake–instant mashed potatoes don’t exactly shout freshness, microwave pizzas certainly don’t speak much for flavour. And when parents, as Pollan reported recently in the New York Times, are buying frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their kids’ school lunches, something has got to give.

For most today, food is a lost art. Now, I don’t mean this in a lofty way. Working in the kitchen is akin to carpentry and car repairs–it requires taking basic principles to situation after situation and learning to apply them. It means developing finesse. It’s a practice–one that we’ve all but forgotten.

Towards the end of Pollan’s article, he asks: “Can we ever put the genie back into the bottle? Once it has been destroyed, can a culture of everyday cooking be rebuilt?” According to food-marketing researcher Harry Balzer, the prospects are pretty grim: “Not going to happen. Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it…The next American cook is going to be the supermarket.”

I don’t think things have to be this way, and clearly, there are plenty of others who agree (see Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Matt Armendariz for starters). Food need not be a lost art. We just need to get cooking.

So that’s what I’ll be writing about here–about all the things that have been marinating, brûlée-ing, infusing, and roasting in my kitchen, with the hope that others get the urge to pick up a wooden spoon and get to it.