Thoughts on food and cooking

Cooking is a very sensual thing for me.  It involves all five of them to varying degrees, some of which are obvious (taste, smell), and some of which may not be (sound, for example). I guess I’ve always known this somehow, but I’ve only recently consciously realized this (I’m slow.  Leave me alone).

I was watching my roommate cook earlier with his headphones on, blasting some random music, when I thought to myself, “I used to do that.  Man, I could never do that now.”

The sense of sound is just too important in the kitchen.  I used to cook with headphones on, too.  Big, honkin’, ridiculous-ass headphones, with the volume turned all the way up.  You know what happened when I was listening to music as I cooked?  Stuff burned.  I couldn’t hear any sizzling when I wasn’t looking, while trying to multitask (I’m a guy, therefore I stink at multitasking.  I admit it).  When the water bubbled away and the sizzling turned to extreme browning, which quickly became straight up burning, I didn’t know it until I smelled it.  Too late.  I stopped putting headphones on while cooking pretty quickly after that, and things got better, slightly.

The sense of smell is likewise important.  While we can only taste salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, our olfactory system is what’s responsible for detecting the millions of aromatic compounds that influence flavor.  Taste, after all, is the most important thing when it comes to food.  Why eat food that tastes bad?

The sense of smell is useful in the kitchen as well.  It helps you determine what foods might taste good, and what food still needs to cook more.  What seasonings would work well together?  What aromatic ingredient are you forgetting?  Is something burning?

Which is why I hate it when my roommate smokes in or near the kitchen.  It stinks and it fucks up my senses and all of a sudden I can’t seem to focus my nose on my food anymore.  Is something burning?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Your God damned cigarette.  Put it out, please.  And quit.  You suck at soccer now, anyway, which is reason enough.

Fernand Point would  have his waitrons bring patrons the check for their meal if they lit up a cigarette between courses.  “Obviously, you are done with dining.”

“We eat with our eyes,” and so visual appeal and plating are important.  Vegetables should be cut with care.  Certain foods (vegetables, for instance) should be uniformly cut not only to ensure even cooking, but to ensure that it looks good on a plate.  Food cooked in a pan should be cooked with the presentation-side first.  The idea is that the side you present the food on should be made to look as good as possible first.

Thought and consideration should be taken when developing a dish or recipe.  Does this dish need more color?  Maybe some red pepper, tomato, or red onion for color.  Maybe yellow pepper or lemon.  Maybe some parsley, dill, or cilantro for a touch of green, for example.  Are you making a terrine?  Add some visual appeal, some interior garnish.  If a dish looks good, it will probably taste better than an equally tasty but monotone, boring-looking dish.

Touch.  Experienced cooks can tell how done a steak is, for example, just by touching it.  Bread and some pastries will have a certain level of springiness to them.  Ripe avocados and ripe pears have some give to them, are absolutely delicious when ripe, and are fairly terrible when not.

But also, mouthfeel comes into play.  Is the okra slimy?  You’re doing it wrong.  Fat, besides being really, really tasty, coats the tongue and makes things tastier.  Gelatin has a similar effect, which is why gelatinous stocks are soooooo good.  Vegetables can either be crunchy and raw, al dente, or soft and mushy.  Same goes for dried pasta.  Some people prefer to have lumpy mashed potatoes.  Fried foods should be crispy.  Why is there eggshell in my omelet?  The crunch of a potato chip, the softness of a chocolate chip cookie, the crispness of a fresh, autumn apple.  Let the bubbles of champagne tickle your tongue.

But most of all, taste.  Why eat food if it doesn’t taste good?  Life’s too short to eat bad food.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on food and cooking”

  1. You eat food that doesn’t taste good because you have no choice. It is the way of the army.

    But then again, I’m not sure you can call that ‘food’.

  2. restaurantouring Says:

    I’m still waiting on that rickroll, you know. It took me about 4 hours to figure out who the hell you were and how you knew I had a camera after your first comment. I forgot the “Delo” part of your name until I decided to look you up today, so now my suspicions are no more!

    How the hell have you been? How’s Iraq?

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