Culinary: of or about cooking and preparation of food and kitchens
It took me a few minutes to decide the best word to describe my relationship with cooking. Was it “cookery,” “chef-like,” or some other monstrosity of a description. Then culinary popped in my mind. I’m culinary. Not that I am by any means formally trained or an exceptionally talented chef of any sort; however, I enjoy cooking, seem to have a natural talent for it and can usually do things without needing a recipe.
Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked something using the recipe exactly as it was written. I feel the need to change either the temperature, the ingredients or the order of how I choose to go about preparing the dish. Some might say I can’t follow instructions; that’s definitely not the reason. I think I see recipes as “guidelines” we should use as a starting place to figure out on our own how to make something delicious.
Culinary is a fancy word, at least in the way that I think of it. And I’m not really that fancy, so in some ways, culinary doesn’t apply to me. I also don’t know all the basic rules of cooking, so there are times when something I create comes out completely wrong because I didn’t know you were supposed to blanch an ingredient first, or it needed to be slightly cooler before you started the next step. Or why you’d use unsalted versus salted butter. I should know these things, but I don’t. That would stop me from going on any of those TV cooking show challenges; and I’ve already explained how much I enjoy doing some sort of challenge.
My favorite attempt at a challenge was when some friends and I would create our own version of the show “Top Chef.” My cousin and friends pick out the ingredients, place them in a box, then give me anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to prepare a dish using those ingredients, plus anything I have in the kitchen. At the time, I was living in the suburbs, so I had a fully stocked kitchen most weeks. I couldn’t do it in NYC now because I tend to only cook on weekends, and then I buy the ingredients when I need them. In my box on one occasion was lemongrass, peanut butter, pignoli (pine) nuts, clementines and mussels. I had to CLEAN the mussels and create the whole dish in 30 minutes. It was insanity but I finished, and it turned out to be amazing! I had coconut oil and heavy cream. I made a beautiful Thai curry sauce and a side salad with a peanut butter and pine nut dressing. Yum!
Being culinary requires creativity and cooking knowledge. I have some levels of both, not enough to be a master chef by any means, but enough to be dangerous. Some days it will turn out amazing, others I can see the look of fear on the face of whomever is having the meal with me. I’m particularly bad when it comes to baking, given that I don’t always follow a recipe. I’ve had a really flat cake that was supposed to be super moist and tall. I’ve also had a Swiss Roll that was so squishy, it couldn’t hold any filling. Tasted great, looked like a candle that had melted beyond repair.
Cooking helps you express your creativity while balancing the basic skills you need to prepare and assemble something from scratch. I’ve started watching the Great British Baking show because it has 3 challenges that appeal to me: (1) make a dish with directions from the show’s 2 judges, (2) a technical challenge to re-create a dish the judges made first and (3) complete freedom and creativity to make a dessert that is equally as tasty as it is inventive in appearance. I’d rock 2 of those 3!
The other fun aspect of being culinary is how you can use all 5 of your senses. Touching the ingredients, smelling the creation, seeing the beauty, hearing the sizzle, and tasting along the way. Very few other hobbies or activities can truly engage you on all levels. And when you get it all right, it’s a masterpiece. A slight change can create something completely new and decadent, but it can also lead you astray to a disaster. It can be accomplished on your own or as a group activity. You can take cooking lessons. You can write about cooking. You can do videotaped shows on how you cook. There are so many possibilities.
For me, it’s always been something to do on a third or fourth date; showcase your prowess in the kitchen. Or if you’ve got friends or family coming by for a night of games or movies, cook up a few special dishes or appetizers. And cuisines are so wide and varied. Italian, French, Spanish, Indian, Greek, Chinese… I’m not big into American dishes, cooking them, that is. I’m not much of a hamburger and hot dog kinda guy. But I do love and make a delectable meat loaf with a few surprise and secret ingredients.
How does cooking relate to your personality? For me, I’m orderly and clean, and so are my flavors. I prefer something new and unique. I’m certainly unique, but aren’t we all? It takes patience and time to get it right… and so do all of my attempts at these daily posts.
I suppose that’s quite in line with what you’ve learned about me so far in twelve days of the 365 Challenge. Do you cook? What’s your specialty? Give me some ideas and let’s share something delicious.