Why you should cook even though it’s hard.

Words from a domestic cook.

I know it’s summer and hot as all hell, well at least here in New York City, so no one is really thinking about cooking in their hot ass kitchen. So now we face a new challenge in the kitchen, how to cook with minimal stove time. I’m excited to make all the delicious salads and cold soups this summer. The same way I was excited to try making Irish stew this past winter that ended up being one of the best things I have ever made in my life. Nothing can stop me from cooking. It’s cheaper, it’s experimental, it’s fun to share, it’s an experience, it’s culture, and it heeds delicious results. Most of all, it’s satisfying.

Reasons to cook

Never stop learning

Cooking is a challenge, but it’s something you can always keep improving on. Eventually, some things become very easy. There is no limit to how much you can learn to cook.
It’s fun to challenge yourself. Even people who cook to save money or for survival like to challenge themselves. They’re less scared to take a pasta-making class or attempt to cook a complex curry.

Experimentation

Now it’s summer, which means we can experiment with frozen foods such as popsicles and ice cream. Experimentation is just fun. Whether its food chemistry such as making beer, yogurt, kombucha, or kimchi. Or it’s testing out a new fruit to put in your jam or pie. Or it’s making your own dough for your pie crust or bread loaf from scratch. Once you get a few techniques down, you can start experimenting using those techniques with other ingredients.

mexican icecream, mexican fruit ice, frozen fruit ice, Oaxaca Mexico
mexican icecream, mexican fruit ice, frozen fruit ice, Oaxaca Mexico
Oaxaca ice stand (2019) — Photo taken by me

Activate all your senses

Cooking is an all sensory experience. You see the beautiful colors and textures, smell the delicious ingredients cooking in their oils and spices, hear the sizzling of the food on the fire, and touch the food while preparing, and taste taste taste! It’s one of the only experiences that activate all these senses.

As I traveled, I noticed that in every country, whether I was watching home cooks or professional chefs, and whether they were cooking over live fire or on a camp stove, the best cooks looked at the food, not the heat source. I saw how good cooks obeyed sensory cues, rather than timers and thermometers. They listened to the changing sounds of a sizzling sausage, watched the way a simmer becomes a boil, felt how a slow-cooked pork shoulder tightens and then relaxes as hours pass, and tasted a noodle plucked from boiling water to determine whether it’s al dente. In order to cook instinctually, I needed to learn to recognize these signals. I needed to learn how food responds to the fourth element of good cooking: Heat.

- Samin Nosrat

Pork marinated in kefir, grilling outside, pouring kefir over meat, cooking for barbeque in Minsk, Belarus
Pork marinated in kefir, grilling outside, pouring kefir over meat, cooking for barbeque in Minsk, Belarus
Belarussian Barbeque (2019) — Photo taken by me

You can probably make it better at home

You can probably make a specific meal better than any restaurant out there. Of course, you may not be a master chef. But there are a few dishes that, if you learn to do yourself, will always come out better than most restaurants. My favorite example; elote. Elote is Mexican grilled corn with mayo, cheese, Mexican Tajin spice, and sometimes lemon juice. Sounds simple right? Then how do so many places get it wrong? As opposed to when you buy fresh corn, and use the ingredients already in the kitchen, it will always be on point. If you try elote from different food spots, you will most likely be disappointed.

Grill corn with husk on corn, corn with husk burning on grill in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mexican corn — food, cooking corn
Grill corn with husk on corn, corn with husk burning on grill in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mexican corn — food, cooking corn
Grilled corn in Mexico (2019) — Photo taken by me

This goes for most food, especially with ethnic foods. Many people will say that they cannot find good, for example, tacos or pho in their home-cities. If you master that one dish, it’ll come out tasting better than most places you’ve tried outside.

Sharing your cooking experience and food

Sharing the food that you cooked with your own hands and getting good feedback is a great feeling. It keeps you motivated. Sharing homecooked food creates an opportunity to invite friends over.

You can also cook together and teach each other things about techniques and recipes you’ve learned. It’s kind of hard to do this without judgment to the other chef in the kitchen when you both feel like you know better. But, when you set some ground rules, or just learn to respect one another as fellow domestic chefs, you can get passed that and enjoy cooking together. Samin Nosrat talks about this in her show Salt Fat Acid Heat. She says when she hosts a dinner party, she tells everyone to come a bit early and contribute a little bit to the cooking process. Everyone will enjoy the meal much more when they know they’ve helped with the food preparation.

You can even try to impress a crush with a homecooked meal! We have this old family friend who’s fondest memories are when girls would bake him a pie because they liked him, this was back in the 70s. Because the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In modern times, I’m sure we can admit, man or woman, the key to anyone’s heart is through their stomach.

In conclusion, it’s a great way to share something personal that will deepen your friendships.

Food is more than just fuel

It irks me when people cook and eat just to survive; when they say “food is just fuel.” Food is so much more than that. I touch on this in an article that shares my cooking class experience in Morocco. Food is history and culture. It goes the same with cooking. Cooking is one of the best ways to learn about a specific culture. You can try taking a cooking class in the different cities you travel to. This way, you can learn techniques that can be applied at home. You learn from a chef who calls that country home. With food comes history, which teaches us more about the country, the ingredients, and where the dishes originally come from.

Cooking Tagine or Tajine in Marrakech, Morocco — Lamb Tagine, lamb stew, Moroccan lamb stew in clay pot over stove
Cooking Tagine or Tajine in Marrakech, Morocco — Lamb Tagine, lamb stew, Moroccan lamb stew in clay pot over stove
Lamb for Tagine in Marrakech, Morocco (2020) — Photo taken by me

I write research-based stories; about art, design, food, travel, environmental issues, human rights, & human experience.

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