Cooking — a Metaphor for Life
The more time I spend hunched over my prep table surrounded by scorching hot sauté pans, the swirling winds of the convection oven, and the fryer oil that simmers away ever so patiently, the more I think about life, this world we live in and seek to make sense of it. I’ve convinced myself that the kitchen and how we approach cooking, ingredients and recipes can be the perfect metaphor for life. By understanding the relationship between these two, I’m able to see life in a way that makes a lot more sense. Sometimes we ask questions, seeking answers that are hard to find — hard to make sense of. This helps me, I hope it will do the same for you.
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If you follow a recipe, you know exactly what you’re having for dinner. If you, instead, let the recipe serve as a guide, you’re much more likely to end up with something different. Different can mean bad and inedible, in which case, I hope you learn from your mistakes. However, if different means exciting and undiscovered flavors you didn’t know existed, you then realize that it can be a lot more fun to blaze your own trail, to draw outside the lines, trust your instincts, and give it a go, even if you’re unsure of how things might turn out in the end. More often than not for me, taking the risk has been worth it — it’s never catastrophic and there’s always a lesson to be learned from failure. It has allowed me to learn something about the world and the way it works, instead of just following the directions based on someone else telling me what to do.
There is a Lot to be Said for Being Creative — In Not Playing it Safe. I love a good meal that becomes an adventure, where I know the chef or cook has really stepped out of his or her comfort zone in order to create an experience for the diner. It’s admirable, but it also takes practice, and above that, courage to try techniques we might not have mastered yet, or choosing to work with flavors that with which we might not be entirely familiar. It takes courage, because in this process we are without a doubt, going to fail along the way. It might take a few tries to master breaking down a fish if you have never done so, or giving that immersion circulator a try to sous vide some steaks. It might take overcooking a few meals before getting things down pact, but through all of this, you open yourself up to the opportunity to learn something new. It’s not only a new way to prepare something, or even a new dish — you now have knowledge and experience to share with other people, giving them the opportunity to learn and grow. The more you try, the more you screw up, but in the end, the more you learn, and along with that are some damn good stories to tell.
It’s Not How it Looks on the Outside, it’s What’s on the Inside That Matters — Have you ever salivated over a meal like one of Pavlov’s Dogs, as the waiter approached the table — it all looks so elegant, however upon trying it, it strikes you as bland, uninspired and missing something? What a disappointment. How often do we see that in real life? We learn these concept in kindergarten and are continually reminded of this over and over again throughout the course of our lives — we need it, because so often we forget.
Don’t Skimp on the Good Stuff — Have you ever read over a dessert recipe and thought, ‘I don’t have butter, but I’m sure I can substitute it with Margarine. I don’t have heavy cream, but I have some milk. The chicken salad recipe calls for mayo - I’m sure I can substitute a fat free version, right?’
It rarely turns out fine. Simply put, corners are there to keep you on track, not to be disregarded — it might put you ahead in the short run, but in the long run, it never seems to work out.
Balance is Paramount — Every single dish that comes out of my kitchen has to has some sort of balance of flavor. Not always, but for the most part, there needs to be contrasting flavor profiles; sweets, spices, acids, salts and umami. All of these components can be splendid on their own, carrying their own merit, but when you look at these fundamentally contrasting flavors, and combine them in proper proportions, they become complimentary — you’ve just got to find the right formula for you. Complimentary means that a hint of salt in a chocolate chip cookie can be the perfect savory component to an otherwise entirely sweet treat. Or the meaty deliciousness of a good BBQ rib on a hot summer day can often be found encrusted with a mixture of spices, but they are then offset, when slathered with a sweet, smoky barbecue sauce. There are just enough contrasting elements to make it exciting and I think that’s just how life itself works. Too much of anything can be just that, too much — it’s about finding the balance and cadence for the various compartments of your life.
Low and Slow — If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, pardon my analogy, but in the world of cooking meats, specifically in smoking BBQ, magic is found in honoring the process and time it takes to develop the flavors, break down the intermusculsr tissues, and allow for the smoke to seep it’s way into the flesh. There are ways to try to hack the system, however at the end of the day, it just doesn’t turn out quite the same. Things take time, so let’s appreciate the process we take in getting there — relationships take time, building sustainable businesses takes time, and losing weight (the right way) by dieting takes time. You can try to find a path that gets you there faster, though along the way, you are bound to skip over some key steps — it’s just not the same. Life takes time.
It’s Not the Final Dish, but Rather What We Learn in Getting There — In cooking, as in life, we rush through things so often just trying to get to a certain place, that along the way, we forget to look around and notice the things that happen between the beginning and the end — what we’ve learned about the dish, how we could have adjusted things along the way, we miss those opportunities for growth. There is so much valuable information to learn from that we often just skip right over, not realizing it’s right underneath our noses. We follow a recipe, because that’s what a cookbook tells us to do. But, is it not much more interesting to learn things along the way, discover what works, what doesn’t and take what we’ve learned along the way and pass it on to those who might benefit from it? That’s life. Often, we’re all chasing success and some end goal so much that we don’t slow down enough to have fun, enjoy our lives and switch up the recipe in our lives, for ourselves. In cooking, as in life, we’ll get to the end, but how did we get there? Did we follow instructions every step of the way, or did we use the recipe to guide us, allowing us to season it in a way that represents who we are. How we get there says a lot about the race we’ve run.
Sometimes Your Dish Doesn’t Turn Out Right — Things happen in the kitchen, often. I’ve ruined my fair share of meals, fallen short of impressing guests, dates and frequently, even myself. That’s part of life. Things don’t always go as planned and we certainly don’t always get what we want. But, if you never had an inedible piece of fish, then you would never truly know what it meant to have one that was absolutely delicious. If you’d never tried an overcooked and dried out steak, then you’ll never appreciate when your favorite l restaurant cooks your New York Strip a perfect medium-rare — just how you like it. The less than desirable meals, allow us to appreciate the ones we most enjoy, and the same phenomenon happens in life. It’s not always sunny outside, but if it was, it would get pretty damn boring. If we knew that we would never lose our loved ones, we wouldn’t appreciate them nearly as much. When life could have given us a little more, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect back on the things for which we have to be grateful.
So, for some this might have come across as a bit silly or contrived — I get it. Just know, I think about food and cooking a lot. I think about life a lot too — to me, this seemed like the perfect metaphor — a connector of sorts.
— CHRIS HILL
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