The best chefs cook naked
Society is seized by an obsession with cuisine. The Masterchef empire and the cult of the celebrity chef are facets of this fixation. All over the nation citizens rush to microwave their dinner in time to watch their favourite buff chef or pre-teen whip up something magic.
This increased interest in food, and particularly food preparation, could produce concrete improvements in the way we cook and thereby enhance our everyday quality of life.
Yet so much of what we are offered as culinary inspiration seems more liable to produce culinary intimidation, by virtue of its sheer complexity. And culinary intimidation is completely unnecessary since the secret of successful food preparation is to do as little as possible to it.
The secret does not involve: Watching TV; buying dried cod roe, lemon-infused olive oil or a domestic sized blow torch; or worshipping a celebrity chef.
The current craze also seems to blur the boundaries between restaurant cooking and domestic cooking. Restaurants and domestic kitchens are different realms and such blurring is a recipe for pain on one side of the border - the one where everybody isn’t wearing white.
Consider for a moment the impetus for the bulk of culinary development over human history. The pressing imperative was to disguise the fact that the food was probably rancid and as tender as a king hit. And if it wasn’t off or offal, it was probably the same thing they had eaten for the last three months.
The good news is that if you bother to look, produce is no longer poor. This means it’s time to embrace cuisine as a celebration of what nature has already done for you.
Good food is the same as a supermodel. If you pick the best in its class you don’t need to do anything to it. Perhaps a dress. Perhaps.
So we can choose the best and let nature do the talking: tomatoes, peaches, oysters, tuna. But we can also avail ourselves of centuries of someone else’s painstaking product development with products like cured meats and cheeses that are world-beaters straight out of the wrapper. To prepare these foods, you will need to put them on a plate.
At times further preparation is warranted, for example, searing a premium steak. But before you crack in the face of caramelizing apple or crystallizing violets, ensure you wouldn’t be better off serving a mango at the peak of its season.
The only prerequisites to successful adoption of a philosophy of culinary simplicity are fidelity to both seasonality and quality. As for seasonality, produce calendars are all over the net. And as for quality, just remember that if you need produce to speak for itself you need to find the items with the loudest voice. Sometimes this means spending more and sometimes this means actual research to get the best for less.
But if your entrée is simply a curl of cured meat and a slice of peach you need to find the Gisele Bundchen of pork and the Scarlett Johansson of peaches. You didn’t think they’d come cheap, did you?
Why have I got yolk in my whites over this anyway? Sure, the method for snow eggs has about as much relevance to the real world as Picasso has to your plans to repaint the bathroom. But isn’t this just the food equivalent of armchair travel? Well maybe. But perhaps food intimidation just contributes to a society where there is a glut of food information but a lack of effective food education.
A society where culinary expectations soar while skills crawl, and where the prospect of hosting the once commonplace, home-cooked dinner party strikes fear into the hearts of grown men and women.
So where could we look for inspiration if not to a cuddly celebrity chef or a carrot sorbet?
We could start with an egg – source of life and so much more - an unsurpassed miracle of science and gastronomy. The perfect omelette takes less than 60 seconds and requires only a dab of butter and two eggs. The technique is simple but it is also essential. Learn it here.
Just remember when you’re buying the eggs, you need the carton of Claudia Schiffers.
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