I’m often asked what I love about cooking. It’s a fair question. I not only cook a lot; I read and write about it; I teach about it; and I find endless connections between food, tables and other things.
The trouble is, when asked about my love for cooking, I often feel as though my answer should be deeper or more exciting than it is. A creative drive? A fascination with food culture and tradition? An artistic sensibility? A dedication to performance and beauty? Passions for family, service and hospitality? While all of these are there to some degree, none of it is primary. First and foremost, I cook to be still.
For me, cooking is a legitimate way to withdraw and focus. I do not mean withdraw in a close-the-door-and-leave-me-alone sort of way. Not at all. I quite enjoy company. In fact, if there is no one home I turn the radio on to feel connected. But my listening is sporadic. The voices fade. When I cook my mind is finally still. Whatever else weighs upon me, whatever pressures I feel, whatever conundrums or disappointments I’ve brought home with me, cooking is this meditative moment that requires my full and undivided presence. Everything else is nudged aside for the duration. The truth is, there is nothing else in my daily life like it.
Adam Gopnik describes it well:
‘… the act of cooking is an escape from consciousness … its effect is to reduce us to a state of absolute awareness, where we are here now of necessity. You can’t cook with the news on and still listen to it, any more than you can write with the news on and still listen to it. You can cook with music, or talk radio on, and drift in and out. What you can’t do is think and cook, because cooking takes the places of thought.’
I cannot claim this for anyone else. Cooking comes with as many ‘first loves’ as there are cooks in the world. What’s more, this can all sound a bit too self-serving to be virtuous. But perhaps there are other introverted cooks like me, those who find in cooking some degree of peace and perspective that can then flow over into all the other places of our lives.
And that has to be good, don’t you think?