Hungry to learn

I enjoy the creativity and technical nature of cooking but my favourite thing is the way food and cooking brings people together. I like to think my food comes with a hug. I love hosting dinner parties. They’re wicked fun because I have such amazing friends. I’m usually wiped out the next day though but it’s always worth it. That wonderful feeling I get when I see guests enjoying my food and hospitality, in the company of our friends, in the ambience of my home—it’s like food for the soul. 

Cooking is one of the strongest ceremonies for life. When recipes are put together, the kitchen is a chemical laboratory involving air, fire, water and the earth. This is what gives value to humans and elevates their spiritual qualities. If you take a frozen box and stick it in the microwave, you become connected to the factory.
— Laura Esquivel

Since I got my new kitchen I’ve been improving my approach to cooking. I’m more organised with deliberate attention to mise en place, but being able to consistently serve everything cooked nicely, looking great, and at the right temperature remains tricky. I think it comes down to a few fundamentals:

  • knowing the best order to do things in given a deeper understanding of food and cooking methods,

  • knowing exactly what can be prepared in advance and how to properly store it, and

  • knowing how to keep items warm or reheating them without spoiling.

I’ve come to realise that I’m a bloody slow cook. This explains why I’m a fan of slow cooking. Watching Masterchef contestants cook under the pressure of a short deadline gives me the willies. I’d barely have the spuds peeled in an hour and ten minutes even though I’ve given up the glass of wine prescribed by the indefatigable Keith Floyd to accompany any cooking. Maybe I should start time trials in my kitchen—I foresee the loss of fingers.

Given all the cooking I’ll be doing I figure I should do more entertaining too. Practice, practice, practice! This is why I think a supper club would be a sensible first step if I want to actually do cheffing after graduation. I’d be playing on home turf, so to speak, which provides some safety. And, though being a part of the London pop-up scene would be a great experience, jumping straight into a food truck or some other pop-uppey thing carries greater financial risk.

I’m anxious about the thought of school and exams, I won’t lie, so I’ve been reminding myself to just chill the fuck out and enjoy every moment. There’s much to look forward to, after all. The idea of taking my cooking to a new level and even putting it on a professional footing is most definitely a biggy. What will come easy? And what won’t? Mastering culinary techniques and developing ninja knife skills will be groovy. Enhancing my senses of smell and taste—well those are life skills in my opinion. Even learning about food safety and hygiene will be interesting.

I’m excited to really learn about food itself. Understanding individual ingredients, their seasonality, and getting the best flavours and textures from them. Quality has always been important to me, and I make an effort to support local producers and artisans because I care about the provenance of ingredients and animal welfare.

Then there’s learning how to design balanced and compelling restaurant-quality dishes and menus. Not forgetting food presentation. I’ve always dodged this one by chucking big plates of food in the centre of the table, Naked Chef-style, and letting people help themselves. There’s something especially social about a sharing table—people building their own plates and serving each other as the table comes together to tuck in. Come to think of it, is plating up an art or a science? Or both, maybe? Whatever. I suspect it’s going to challenge me. I can’t wait to find out.

My next entry will be on Monday evening and I’ll tell you all about Induction Day.

Simon Baker2 Comments