How I’m actually obsessed with food: ingredients, cooking culture, chef’s personal stories, the restaurant industry, the history of food agriculture, flavor combinations and the creativity in combining all different kinds food…
The one thing I don’t indulge in are restaurant reviews. I rarely eat out and will probably never go to the place, so it’s an easy bit of elimination in this otherwise immense category. I will investigate a particular chef, their personal story or the actual food writer-reviewer themselves, but no, not the restaurant in most cases.
Once upon a time before Google, I would go to the bookstore and library to pull out stacks of food books, baking books, and diet books. I would sit with a notepad and merry things together, such as diabetic baking tips with vegan baking tips. I would browse beautiful food photography and dream about these flavor creations I’d never heard of. Maybe 1 in 15 meals I actually made, only as a memory of ingredients which worked well together, but never as a recipe followed. I did go on to have a more thorough diet and nutrition background, where each ingredient was investigated for its vitamin and nutrient and caloric profile. I’ve studied the majority of diets under the planet from a most basic Kenyan sprinter eating 2 meals a day of mainly cornmeal mush during training to the current fads of paleo eating crossfitters. Each culture has its ingredients and each body must find what works in the context of this.
Many years have come since I sat with those books. In these years, I’ve only ever eaten a few diets centered around the same handful of ingredients, with some random experiences thrown in. Yet I find myself gravitating back towards this investigative part of life with utter fascination. It is my podcasts addiction which helped clarify this. There is only so much time to listen, and I hear the ones on food culture, chef interviews, and the science of food as my Top 2* listens.
When I needed to unload some books before the last move, I did eliminate from the cookbook stack firstly. But the ones I kept say a lot too. An updated fundamentals in vegetarianism via Moosewood, the tried and true most current addition of Joy of Cooking, the latest science from The Food Lab
One thing I never got was the training, like knife skills or French sauces. As a prolific reader, I do know it is very different to be well read verses well experienced. Knowledge only goes so far. I guess I just decided I could be interested without being professional. But I am years in to being a home cook, so there’s that. And I do my own experiments here and there, like vegan cheese slices (on my 4th round). Seeing as I’ve already said how little I eat out, I cook. 85% of what goes into my mouth is from scratch. I’m a damn good cook.
Now we’re drowning under waves upon waves of food bloggers, recipe sharers, bakers, home cooks, food photographers, and instagramming diners. We are at the point where each food item has a cultist following: barbecue, Japanese ramen houses, and oreo eaters. It really is an exciting time to be eating because we (in developed countries) can source anything from anywhere. Even if your diet involves the fewest of ingredients, there’s another person similar, so we even have a tribe of like-minded others. It’s hard not to be immersed.
To have difficulty deciding what we would like for dinner is the #1 ‘first world problem’ as we are literally spoiled beyond our imaginations. So I’m sympathetic to myself for having come back around to this obsession again.
Regardless of the pickiness of my own diet and the minimal frequency in which I dine out, I easily recognize and admire the hard work needed to be in and survive the industry. It is so ass-kicking for little reward; and most reward only comes from years of being in the fire. Mainly, it takes considerable dedication to learn the fundamentals and skills before one can break the rules; this latter point is what hits close to home for me.
My honest admission is I never really learned the fundamentals of baking before I had my business. I just jumped in and started experimenting. But baking is such a science and unforgiving with little room for error. I spent 6 years trying to break the rules with a mashup of gluten free, vegan and low sugar desserts before there were 100s of bloggers sharing only their successes online. The first two years would’ve been less costly in ingredients definitely. Here at least, I could’t read to be knowledgable; I just had to jump in and DO. I did take Wilton cake decorating classes and I did learn under two pros the decorating required in a traditional bakery job during an 8 month stint at a restaurant-bakery.
This is all to say, the admiration runs deep for any variation of this line of work or career. Hard work and good work ethic should never go out of style.
My mind has heavily been on what can I do next?
*Ashamedly, the other one-of-two favorites in my podcasts line-up: Politics.