Learning to Cook Again, Wasting Less Food

OpenIDEO’s Managing Director looks back at his journey of learning to cook — and why food waste is such an important challenge for us to tackle.

By Jason Rissman

I remember when my dad waved me over from the kitchen table one morning, inviting me to help for the first time. He was wearing a kimono, not because we were in Japan but rather because it was 1981 and Japan was in. I was four years old.

Me at age four, about the time when I started to learn how to cook.

Standing on the chair at his side, I grasped the smooth handle of the frying pan, eager to take hold of it like the steering wheel of a car. His hand guided mine as we tilted the pan. Butter slid, melting before my amazed eyes.

As the mixture of eggs and milk hit the pan, the grownup mystery of cooking began to unfold.

This was the first time I learned to cook, and it taught me that cooking wasn’t magic. There was a process, steps that even I could understand. It wasn’t all that hard — I could do it.

The second time I learned to cook was in Barcelona in my early 20s. I was living with my Moroccan friend Mus, a French guy, and Oscar, the Big Lebowski of Catalunya. Oscar didn’t exactly live with us; his bed was our sofa and the only rent he paid was his late-night wisdom and his spectacular cooking.

Our dinner parties were packed with other young people from around the world. Dinner took hours to prepare. We marinated in Estrella beer, Spanish wine and down-tempo beats. Oscar bounced as he cooked, combining rice with leeks, prunes, black pepper and whatever other random ingredients we happened to have. Mus sautéed onions and tomatoes in a tagine, then added fish and a cumin-rich mix of spices before closing the heavy clay top. There were no recipes, just flow and instinct. When dinner was finally served it brought praise in a dozen languages.

A delicious paella meal in a tagine.

Cooking with Oscar and Mus taught me that pears were better than strawberries for stuffing a chicken, that cooking could be an art and it could create community. It was about using what you had, experimenting, adventuring and the independence of being young and free. For years after I left Spain, I cooked like I was still there.

Read the rest of the article in OpenIDEO Stories.

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