When I was a young man, I spent many years in kitchens, learning skills that seemingly had no place other than adding girth to the already broad masses. Piles of vegetables awaited me mockingly as I sharpened my knife, taunting me with their waxy stares and tough, fibrous ends. Large fish turned their lifeless gazes upon me, silently challenging me to dissect their complex anatomy. The complex chemical equations of a perfectly crafted sauce sent my mind spinning as I tried to coax molecules of butter into emulsification with the delicate golden yolk of an egg. I was young and heavy handed though, with a brute force that enabled me to chop, slice, and fold my way through the complex stainless garden that is a commercial kitchen. I emerged from the other side, scarred both physically and mentally, but with a certain something that no one could even forcibly take from my grasp. I could cook.
While I look back, wistfully sometimes, I realize that those years were now well spent. As I see the tupperware fodder that passes for lunch in most peoples buckets, I am simultaneously proud and sad. We men have lost our feel for food. While we remember our ‘primitive’ forebearers, we often ascribe to the fairer sex the role of providing sustenance, it was us men that first roasted a hunk of once living flesh over hot coals! We need to remember our roots and once again embrace the creativity and freedom unique to creating something that pleases our palate.
Whether it’s competing responsibility or sloth, we have turned from our once great ways, foregoing the fruit of culinary labor for the convenience of opening a cardboard box full of chemical processes we, in a sober state, wouldn’t put in our mouth. As the very blood of our vitality pours out on the altar of convenience, we pay a high price for an overvalued product. We re not healthier, fitter, or in any way better off for the trade of time for easy satiety.
If every man could master the two tools that have kept us out of the dark and alive for millennia – the simple flat piece of sharpened steel, and fire – we could change the face (and waistline) of our society. The lessons I learned while feeding the masses will never leave me. The mistakes I made were mere bumps in the road, simple reminders that I was not perfect, but at least I was walking the path. Learning the basics of which vegetable matter combined with which lipid and then applied to which protein have almost gotten me farther than my ABCs. Being able to take a pile of raw ingredients, apply some cellular division and some heat and some not so complex alchemy, and have something that pleases all of the senses at once is almost magic. Creation is a divine attribute, one that we are given in the kitchen. If we would only take the time to learn this not too complex craft…imagine the possibilities.