13 May 2010
The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with infallible judgment of reality, where one's failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous "self-esteem" that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.
- Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value Of Work
PLEASURE and PERFECTION
When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about.
But to give pleasure, you have to take pleasure yourself. For me, it’s the satisfaction of cooking every day: tourneing a carrot, or cutting salmon, or portioning foie gras – the mechanical jobs I do daily, year after year. This is the great challenge: to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep satisfaction from the mundane.
Say, for instance, you intend to make a barigoule, a stew of artichoke hearts, braised with carrots and onions, fresh herbs, oil and wine. You may look at your artichokes and think, “Look at all those artichokes I’ve got to cut and clean.” But turning them – pulling off the leaves, trimming their stems, scooping out the chokes, pulling your knife around its edge – that is cooking. It is one of my favorite things to do.
Another source of pleasure in cooking is respect for the food. To undercook a lobster and serve it to a customer, and have him send it back, is not only a waste of the lobster and all those involved in its life, it’s a waste of the potential of pleasing that customer. Respect for food is a respect for life, for who we are and what we do.
When you’ve pulled your pot from the oven to regard your braise, to really see it, to smell it, you’ve connected yourself to generations and generations of people who have done the same thing for hundreds of years, in exactly the same way. Cooking is not about convenience and it’s not about shortcuts. Cooking is about wanting to take time to do something that is priceless. Our hunger for the twenty-minute gourmet meal, for one-pot ease and pre-washed, pre-cut ingredients has severed our lifeline to the satisfactions of cooking. Take your time. Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.
A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe. I can tell you the mechanics – how to make a custard, for instance. But you won’t have a perfect one if you merely follow my instructions. If you don’t feel it, it’s not a perfect custard, no matter how well you’ve executed the mechanics. On the other hand, if it’s not literally a perfect custard, but you have not maintained a great feeling for it, then you’ve created a recipe perfectly because there was no passion behind what you did.
- Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook