Start a fire in a safe place, put some meat on a stick with an herb you found in the local swamp, share it with your fellow hunters and maybe you just started the first restaurant. If they ate every last shred off the stick, you had yourself a winner. You cooked well. And you also invented a ritual, and maybe even a religion. Let’s call it life’s short, bad food is a sin. if you lived in caves and hunted all your food, indeed life WAS short. Eating well mattered.
So it’s deep in our genes to care, but not so deep in some, apparently, as there is a lot of mediocre food out there. The mystery is why does anyone do something so important so badly? Airplane food, school food, prison food (I assume) and many a gloppy suburban casserole come to mind with a shudder. it’s simple. The common thread to good food is caring, miles more than knowledge of knife technique or saucing.
Well not much is harder than simple excellence. The perfect little black dress should not be so hard, nor a delectable vanilla pudding. I mean it’s 4 ingredients. But it is, and they are. How about bread, which is 3 ingredients, theoretically, and then a cooked egg which is one ingredient. What the hell happens in the hands of some cooks? Like my mom, who could make eggs dry on one side of the pan and runny on the other. God love her, food was just not her forte. And in fact, she lived on black coffee, cigarettes and canned tomato soup.
So to cook food well, you have to care, and caring is a big risk, because someone else may not care about what you did at all. Caveman Mog, the restaurant critic, started that particular anxiety for caveman Foggle, the chef who poached an ostrich egg instead of boiling it. Foggle left off the salsa, Mog’s personal favorite. Mog spread the word and Foggle was depressed for days.
But ya gotta care and put it out there anyway. And every chef, cook, baker and deli gal who does that has my appreciation and admiration.