Everyone Can Cook (Or, Why This Hobby Seems Less Cool Than Your Hobby)
This old article caught my eye today. In The Why Of Cooking, Atlantic writer Joe Pinsker posits that the fabulous book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, is a “Valuable user’s manual for recipes, letting even the greenest cooks disassemble them to see how their parts fit together.” He writes at some length about trying to find a cookbook that teaches cooking, which nearly all recipe books fail to do. In Samin Nosrat’s book, he finally finds what he’s been missing: A digestible, readable, learnable format to good cooking.
And with this assertion, I find the root of my embarrassment at saying cooking is one of my only hobbies. Everyone can cook. Everyone must cook, because everyone must eat. Therefore, how is something that everyone can and does do one of my greatest joys and pastimes?
I have imposter syndrome about this hobby. My inner critic just typed, “pathetic hobby,” but with some regret I deleted that adjective. I find myself pushing against the depiction of cooking as a hobby, because it’s something everyone literally has to do to live. And I push even harder against the idea of cooking as a talent, because I firmly believe everyone has it in them to be a good cook.
If “even the greenest cook” picks up Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, they can learn how to disassemble dishes to “see how their parts fit together.” They can learn the fundamentals of being a good cook, just by reading a book.
Unlike my husband, whose hobby is singing, and his voice is a gift he was born with. Unlike my girlfriend whose hobby is painting, and her way around a canvas is not something you can teach. Unlike professional athletes whose gifts are honed by practice but special at heart — you can’t learn to be tall, or fast, or strong. Unlike all of those “real” talents, cooking is something anyone can learn and practice and be good at. I swear. If you can read, you can stir and you can taste, you can cook — and you can probably do it pretty well.
I claim some ownership over the chefdom of two close male friends. But at the root, I didn’t do anything besides remind them that they, too, can cook. I didn’t actually know how to make crepes at 22, but I knew that with a recipe, a really hot pan, and a decent amount of wine, Danyel and I could eventually produce a pretty solid crepe and fill it with something decadently savory. And now he’s far surpassed me in the kitchen arena. I gave him the confidence to try, and that’s all he needed to become a chef. Anyone, anyone can cook.
I think what makes the way I cook special isn’t that I’m pretty good at it, but that I enjoy it.
I have a girlfriend who swears she couldn’t live without a microwave, and I believe her. When COVID hit, I was genuinely concerned for how she’d eat if she couldn’t pick up her twice-daily Sweetgreen salads. I knew she could make a salad herself, but she truly didn’t believe that she could. She’s learned how to cook, but she takes no joy in it. If it requires more than pouring the vodka in the soda water, she is not into it. Never will be.
I, meanwhile, am typing this as I caramelize six onions. But didn’t I just caramelize ten pounds of onions last week, you ask? Indeed, I did! But I used nearly all of them for Saturday’s onion-themed dinner, and the little quarter cup that I didn’t I added to my Sunday night comfort pasta (ahem, Sunday night faux ramen), and I discovered that my refrigerator will never be properly full again without caramelized onions on hand.
I love having the ingredients on hand to make the things that give me joy. And I feel oh so lucky that I can do this thing that some people call a chore and find joy in it. I’m even luckier that it gives other people joy. I believe everyone can cook — and be a good cook. But I’m not going to let that diminish the satisfaction and pride I take in my hobby.
Matt gives people his music. And it is wonderful.
I shall give people my cooking. And it is (almost) always wonderful.
Alicia Amling View All →
Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.
Loved this, Alicia! Beautifully written and may have even inspired me to try to cook more.