When you are in my line of work and you meet new people, three things tend to happen: there are those who will enthusiastically tell you they can’t even boil an egg (which is actually harder to do right than the poor egg gets credit for) and will proceed to swiftly change the subject. Others will just enthusiastically let you know they cook EVERYTHING from scratch and then you will be snowed under a recitation of recipes they made in the past two years.And finally, there is the trickier group, the one I lovingly call the “kitchen gadget whores”.
As proven by the multiplying of stores like Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table, people are into the most useless kitchen utensils that, like cookbooks, no doubt tend to be forgotten in drawers, waiting for the next garage sale.Do we really need a bagel cutter when a simple serrated knife will do? Or how about a banana hanger? Or a pineapple corer? Really? We are all guilty of it.
In the last twenty years, the kitchen has become the architectural core of most houses – if, on one hand, the idea makes sense and it encourages us not to only to cook but also to entertain in a more informal manner, the scales are now tipping towards over accessorizing our kitchens. So, the question I get asked most often is about the merits of Viking stoves, convection ovens, bread makers and all other kinds of cooking paraphernalia.
And then I think of my mother. The most accomplished home cook I have ever come across and no, I am not biased. Her lasagna, quails, ducks, fried zucchini blossoms, entire meals for 30 people come out of a kitchen so small and so modest that even I have sometimes trouble reconciling the plates with the tiny oven, the dismal range and the ancient equipment. It just goes to show that to make great food all you need is love – love for the raw material, for the feeling of meat and fish and dough under your fingers, love of repetition, love for the people you are cooking for – technique and knowledge will come from experimentation and yes, your convection oven will save you 10 minutes on your baking time and your Viking range will confer you social status but all you need is the willingness to spend a couple of hours entertaining yourself, maybe using a cookbook at first or a family recipe or a friend’s suggestion. There will be memorable disasters that will make the successes oh so much sweeter.
Money well spent will be the one shelled out for at least 3 good knives and basic instructions on how to use them. The rest will follow. Above all, what I realized I needed most at the onset of my cooking days, was a fearlessness of the unknown – the unknown ingredient, the unknown technique, the seemingly impossible recipe. Learning how to fillet a fish properly or how to spin sugar took some time but it was as much fun as travelling to an unknown continent.