Thursday, 3 November 2011

How to cook?

There was a very interesting article in tonight's Evening Standard with the headline "Dare you cook without a book?".

Essentially the author was exploring cooking without following a recipe book, as if this was some sort of novel adventure. This, I think, is maybe the fundamental problem with people who moan that their food never turns out like the recipe. It's because they follow the recipe so slavishly that it doesn't.

[The single exception (that some may say "proves the rule") is baking. Baking is more like science. Thus for the purposes of this article, baking isn't cooking.]

Good cooking does, I'm afraid, involve a touch of skill, not just an ability to follow a set of instructions perfectly. As many times as an author tests a recipe, or is prescriptive to the last detail, unfortunately the circumstances in which people cook are completely different. It is unlikely that you will have the same oven or hob as the author, that you used exactly the same ingredients in exactly the same condition, to that your water is the same hardness. I could go on, their are countless variables which will be different. However, the skill is taking account of these differences to be able to cook a steak rare every time independently of where you are, what utensils you've got and the provenance of the ingredients.

To get back to the article the author had spent the morning with Michelin-starred Alex Gauthier (of Gauthier Soho) wandering around Berwick Street market choosing what looked good. They then went back to his kitchen and made a meal.

Apparently this idea of cooking "using only intuition and instinct" is "creating the quiet rumblings of a backlash". In my mind it's actually what cooking is all about.

I'd love to be able to just wander a market and know what's in season and what pairings work without having to do some research before hand. That is what gives professional chefs the edge and makes them professionals. They spend their working life with ingredients searching for combinations which taste great. The other advantage they have is that they are trained in technique and know how to best extract flavour.

Having said that I think it is the author I have issue with rather than Gauthier, his philosphy seems genuine and makes sense. I'm also keen to visit Ducksoup in Soho, which has a daily changing menu based purely upon what's available and good that day.

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