Since I had a very bad experience with this kind of “precooked” food, A.K.A. “your meal in 5 minutes”, I started to learn about the fantastic world of cooking.
I've never studied or worked in a restaurant in my life, but I invested several hours reading and comparing recipes, experimenting at home, and hosting several dinners with friends.
In the last dinner I hosted at home, one of my friends made me a very interesting question while I was finishing the plate:
“Isn't this your favorite part of cooking?” – My friend, Philip
But first, some context of what was happening. I was cooking my favorite dish from Thailand, called “Khao Soi”. The reason I love this dish so much is because of its unique presentation.
In essence, it's a very strong noodle soup, similar taste as a curry but not that thick. As you can see at the top of the dish, there is so much going on! To name some “toppings” you can find:
- A citric: a slice of lime or even pickles, they create an amazing combination with the spiciness.
- Onion slices: can be normal onions but I do recommend using shallots instead.
- Green herbs: you can use cilantro, parsley, or even green onions.
- Nuts: almonds, peanuts, or even cashews.
- Fried noodles: yes, you grab the same noodle for the soup, fry them, and put it on top. A-MA-ZING!
It's quite funny because there are more ingredients for the “topping” than for the soup ... So yeah, once you have all the parts prepared and it's time to put them together, it's quite a challenge.
Now going back to my friend's question. He asked me while I was finishing the plate, therefore I didn't elaborate that much my answer, which was a simply:
“Ermm, no, this is just to make it look nice.”
I put the plates on the table, and we started to enjoy the meal.
But the question continued resonating in my head until the next day:
“What is my favorite moment of cooking?”
Also, another valid question could be:
“What are the cooking moments?”
And this is exactly what I want to write about, the moments that I find while cooking!
This is a division I came up with, and I don't know if this exists or not, but I think it's a nice experiment to take cooking as a whole activity and split it. These are the moments I see:
- Flavor Creation
The steps are in order and the “success” of each one depends on the result of the previous one. For example, if you made a bad Preparation then the Flavor Creation might present some difficulties.
For anything you want to cook there are always two things you need to know beforehand:
- What do I need to have? – Ingredients.
- What do I have to do with them? – Steps.
If you have the answer for both, then congratulations you have a recipe.
Nowadays there are several ways to look for recipes: books, online, video tutorials, or maybe you know by heart. I like to use every possible resource with the time I have, compare the recipes, and create my version of the dish, containing what I consider the best.
I can take up to 2 hours of planning before heading to the supermarket to buy groceries!
Commonly known as “Mise en Place”, which is a French word to refer to “Set up”. It involves cutting, washing, cleaning surfaces, preparing containers, and every possible action that you can do before you turn on the fire.
To be honest, when I first started cooking I was skipping this step. I was preparing the ingredients while cooking, which is possible and in many recipes, you can do it. The problem is, if you are not moving fast you might end up overcooking your food and most probably very stressed.
Also, you must know the recipe by heart or at least have it at hand for the next step.
Once I understood the value of it, there is no meal I cook without first preparing everything. I relate this with keeping a clean desk to work, if you keep a clean desk at the office you have less distraction while working.
Everything is ready, now it's time to light that fire on! You take all the containers you need to use and you add each of the ingredients one by one.
In many recipes, it's normal that you have to use more than one container at the same time, so timing is key! In case your recipe requires long cooking times, I recommend using a timer that will remind you to turn off the fire.
Sometimes things are not working as expected, this is fine. The good thing about cooking is its versatility and how you can play with the ingredients. So don't be afraid of breaking the rules and changing plans, because, in the end, it will be always your version of the plate!
The timer ringed, which means it's time to bring food to this world. I used to think that presentation didn't play a big role because food it's about how it tastes and not about how it looks, right? Well, I was wrong.
It turns out that, you can tell a story with your presentation. The order and the way you place each flavor into the plate defines your representation.
It's not about how it looks, it's about what it represents.
With that said, I'm not declaring that the flavor is not important ... I see it as a combination, where the success of a plate is when you manage to put them both together.
If there is something I love about Italian culture, it is this tradition of everybody sitting around a big table, and that is exactly what I try to achieve when I invite people home.
This is the moment when you realize that all the time and effort invested were worth it because you can see the expressions and reactions of the surrounding people.
I phrase that I'm planning to put in my kitchen soon is:
I make people happy with my food.
And that's so true. And if you are also a cook, you know that the feeling of someone showing appreciation for a dish is amazing!
My final answer
Going through this mental process of separating cooking into 5 different steps made me realize why I love this hobby so much. Each step is more or less related to topics I find very interesting:
- Planning: investigation and learning
- Preparation: cleanliness and order
- Flavor Creation: skills and precision
- Presentation: design
- Enjoyment: mindfulness
But if I have to pick one, I would say Flavor Creation is my favorite one. To say why I will use another quote:
Cooking is like playing an instrument, the more you play the better you get.
When you start to play the guitar, it's almost impossible not to look at the position of your hands, or playing a song without knowing the chords. If you continue practicing, there will be a moment when you just grab a guitar and start playing naturally. When this happens, you are “In the Zone”.
I find myself exactly in the same situation in the kitchen, exactly at the moment of the Flavor Creation! The more I know how to cook a dish, the easier it is for me to enter on this state of flow when I can move from one pot to the other, checking the consistency, adding ingredients, regulating the fire, etc.
Once I am “In the Zone”, I can abstract myself from the world, forgetting all the problems that I was dealing with. With the plus that I can share the output with others :)
If you get here, I appreciate you for taking the time to read! I would love it if you can share with me what is your view regarding cooking.
Thanks for reading, Ema.