Cooking vs eating
Posted 19 January 2003 - 12:31 PM
There is a broad range of questions here, so we would encourage members to address any that strike their fancy.
Given an either/or choice and setting monetary concerns aside, would you rather cook for yourself or eat someone elseís cooking?
If your answer is "it depends" then what does it depend on? Does it depend on who else is doing the cooking? If so, who do you want to cook for you? Does it depend on the person you're cooking for? If so, whom do you want to cook for?
An active or a passive role
Would you describe the difference between the role of the cook and that of the diner as active as opposed to passive? It seems obvious that cooks are active, but can diners become active participants in the dining experience? If so, what form does their activity take? Do they even want to be active?
The dining experience
What do you most enjoy about eating a meal prepared by others? The quality of the food (including hard-to-find ingredients, un-thought-of combinations, the new and different)? The experience of being cared for, or waited on? The feeling of luxury?
When you dine at restaurants, do you ever try to "take control of your meal" e.g. by asking for ingredients or accompaniments or preparations not on the menu? (ŗ la Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally)? If so, why?
When your meal is prepared by friends or loved ones, how does your relationship to the cook affect your feelings about the food?
The cooking experience
What is it about cooking that you most enjoy? The creation process? The experience (tactile or intellectual) of choosing ingredients? The feeling of control over the outcome? The joy of providing food for loved ones? The ability to impress people, to "show off"?
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le goÔŅĹt de ce qu'elles sont."
Posted 19 January 2003 - 01:54 PM
I would rather cook for myself almost all of the time. I am a control freak. I like to stick my face into the pan. I don't like to put anything in the oven, the microwave, or even into a covered pot; I have to sit on my hands to restrain myself from constant prodding and poking. I am 23 years old and almost flat broke. What money I have not already earmarked for culinary school, I spend on food. It is perhaps this that makes me prefer my own cooking, I can't afford to dine out, and here in Kalamazoo, MI, we don't have much going for us other than chain restaurants geared towards the large college population.
Diners should be active. When I cook for people, which is as often as I can possibly afford to, 2-3 times a week, most of them are very interested in what I am doing and want to help. If I politely refuse their help, and try to shoo them out, they still linger in the (tiny apartment) kitchen, drinking too much wine and asking questions. Among my friends there are few cooks--indeed, most of us are college students who live on Ramen-noodle-budgets and none of us are anywhere near as erudite or knowledgable as the people who frequent this website. I feel outclassed posting here. I hope that starting culinary school in May will broaden my circle of friends, but as it stands, in the past year or so, there has been an informal group of us who eat together in my kitchen, drink wine together, and naturally, spend time talking about food. These are business and creative writing and television production students, rock musicians, graffiti artists, and substitute teachers. These are frat boys and barhoppers. These are most definitely not "foodies." Yet I've noticed they want to have a role in what they are eating. They want to chop, stir, and lately, they want to shop for ingredients. Something is rubbing off on them: I heard one boy correctly answer the following Trivial Pursuit question at a party--"what is the ingredient in hot peppers that packs the punch?" This is the same boy who has nothing in his cupboards but macaroni and barbecue chips.
Posted 19 January 2003 - 02:45 PM
Although I will cook almost anything at home, I look to restaurants for ideas, I have never been a creative person and have a hard time coming up with food combinations on my own. I also turn to restaurants for certains meal that for one reason or another I prefer to eat out. Sushi is one of these, although living in Japan I have access to excellent fish in even the smalllest of supermarkets, I would just rather pay a little more money to eat it out.
When I do go out I tend to order either something I would never be able to make at home (usually due to price or accessability of ingredients) or something I would like to try to make so I can get the idea of the flavors.
One of the joys of cooking my own food is the sense of accomplishment that I feel when I am done,
Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"
Posted 20 January 2003 - 09:14 AM
would you rather cook for yourself or eat someone elseís cooking? If your answer is "it depends" then what does it depend on?
My answer isn't so much "it depends" as it is "both." Being a serious and interested amateur cook makes me a more appreciative audience for professional cooking. Likewise, tasting the food that serious chefs make helps hone my palate and gives me something to strive for when I cook on my own. It's like a spectator sport. I certainly think I enjoy watching Major League baseball more for having played in an after-school league as a kid. Were I a pure spectator, I'd never "get" the game in the same way. Granted, both my baseball and cooking abilities don't rate on a professional scale, but even at a low level of participation your appreciation of what professionals do can be greatly enhanced.
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, email@example.com
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)
Posted 20 January 2003 - 12:03 PM
So yes, I enjoy the whole process of cooking from finding ingredients to presentation but in the end the objective is still to put food I like on my plate for a good eating experience. Now if I could get somebody else to put decent food on the plate for me I'd accept that kind offer, because the desired end has been reached without major effort on my part. Besides which food produced by somebody else always has the element of surprise (usually pleasant) either because of the unusual ingredients/combinations/presentations or the skills that have gone into it. Even the rare poor experiences show you what to avoid, either in restaurants or in home cooking, so the next experience is better. And as Fat Guy says knowing the basics of production also enhances the experience of eating someone elses great food.
Posted 20 January 2003 - 05:52 PM
Posted 21 January 2003 - 02:49 AM
I find cooking and being served completely different (but equally pleasurable) experiences. For me, there is an element of performance in planning and preparing a dinner, especially one of any ambition or complexity. I think hard about how I'm going to get it done, mentally work out timing, do a mise en place, all that. I don't relax until after the last dish has been served to the last guest. An unfortunate implication of this is that I drink very little wine, if any, during dinner parties unless I am with very close friends who will be relaxed about minor errors. I've done some teaching, where the need for vigilance and focus is even stronger, but that's almost a different enterprise even though both involve cooking.
Being cooked for, on the other hand, is a relaxing experience, one I enjoy almost no matter how the food comes out. It's not the avoided work, but the sense that someone has taken the time to care about a dinner, to choose the foods and set the table. But it's a completely different mindset. I tend to lose my critical faculties when dining with friends and neighbours -- the food always tastes good. That said, the quality of home cooking in Britain right now is very good. Excellent ingredients are widely available, and a long tradition of good home cooking has come together with a new awareness of food in a very positive way.
Now if the restaurants would just pick this up...
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le goÔŅĹt de ce qu'elles sont."
Posted 21 January 2003 - 04:21 PM
I used to cook to impress; now I cook to please, to give Ė and, of course, because I really do enjoy it. I enjoy the sense of satisfaction and of accomplishment when I produce a good meal. And, despite the fact that I played the flute for years and have been writing in various professional capacities for years, cooking alone has afforded me a truly creative medium.
I think my favorite part of the cooking process is when Iím formulating ideas for a meal, looking through cookbooks for inspiration, taking bits and pieces from several and putting them all together. I love shopping for food, browsing, altering my plans depending on what looks especially appealing at the market (Oh, the sight of fresh, boned quail lying there in the butcherís case when youíre not expecting them). I even like the prep work. Chopping vegetables, trimming meat, toasting and grinding spices, making stock Ė itís soothing, relaxing. And then that feeling when what Iím making comes together the way I envisioned, when, with the last pinch of salt or squeeze of lemon juice, the dish is there Ė itís like seeing my name in print when I get something published. (No, seeing my name in print is better. But itís still exceptionally gratifying.)
Oddly enough, the one time I thought about cooking professionally and catered a couple of parties for my sister and friends, I hated it. All of my enjoyment disappeared when I was cooking ďfor real,Ē so I gave up that idea after only a few attempts. I do like teaching cooking classes though Ė imagine being paid to tell people what to do in the kitchen Ė and feel that Iím good at it (better, certainly, than I was at teaching philosophy). At least my students tell me I am, and I find that very gratifying.
When I go out to eat, I want to eat food that I canít or wonít make myself. Iíve fallen into the unfortunate habit of constantly analyzing my meals out in order to get ideas for my own cooking, which can interfere with the dining experience if Iím not careful. Actually the one sure sign that Iím eating extraordinary food is that the analytical part of my brain turns off. And I will say that all of the ďtranscendentalĒ food experiences Iíve had have been at restaurants. But regardless of the quality of food, the quality of service has to be high, because thatís what I most enjoy about going out Ė being waited on.
When Iím eating a meal prepared by a friend or a family member, itís a different story. Like Jonathan said, my critical faculties are not engaged on the same level Ė I canít say that I can ever really turn them off, but theyíre very far in the background. And even if the food is not very good, knowing that someone has taken the time and effort to cook for me is touching.
The only time in my adult life when I didnít enjoy cooking was during the tail end of my relationship with my then-fiance. Weíd lived together for about five years by this time, and for the last four of it, I was cooking virtually every dinner we ate. He cooked occasionally on the weekends (or rather he grilled something and I cooked the rest of the dinner) and we went out or ordered takeout very, very rarely, but aside from that I was at the stove pretty much every night. I still liked cooking in theory and sometimes even in practice, but the feeling that I had to cook dinner every evening was dreadful.
So when I left him, I luxuriated in not cooking. I was broke and didnít much feel like going out to restaurants anyway, but I ordered a lot of take out, cooked store bought pasta with store bought sauce and lived on scrambled eggs and toast for months before I started cooking again.
Finally, one last note: One of the reasons I wanted to start this thread is that I have never understood those people who love food but don't cook and hoped to learn something about that phenomenon. Anyone in that category?
Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
eG Ethics signatory
About.com guide, Cooking for Two
Ten ways you can help the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters
Posted 21 January 2003 - 05:10 PM
Often its been portrayed as something of an either/or situation (see "If Suzanne F tried to teach Cabrales cooking, ?????"), but I'm not sure that's really accurate.
First of all, its not a spectrum--there are more than two sides to this issue. For a while I thought there were three--that it was best represented as a triangle--but I've recently thought it through and seen both a fourth AND a fifth side. Geez... so its at least a Pentagon--with various spots available between all of the extreme corner positions.
Corner 1: "Food is Fuel" - The people who eat simply because its better than an IV in the arm. (remember, this represents an EXTREME position)
Corner 2: "Live To Eat" - Enjoys food as an end-product but doesn't particularly care how it got there.
Corner 3: "Food Scholar" - The Cabrales' of the world. Enjoys discussions of technique as much as the food, but are content to be observers at most.
Corner 4: "Live to Cook" - Enjoys preparation as much as eating, but one task loses meaning without the other. A lot of "home cooks" no doubt fall into this category, and certainly any number of food professionals.
Corner 5: "Food as a Business" - Discussions of technique take on an even greater importance. Many food professionals probably appear in a sub-category of this, but it can also include anyone who seperates out the tasks of eating from cooking. They may fully enjoy both, but they are clearly seperate.
And then there is the rest of the world... the people who fall in the middle of this pentagon somewhere. No doubt the Steven Shaws, Jon Luries, Suzanne Fs and Steve Plotnickis of the world ALL fall in very different areas.
As for actual rationales as to WHY someone might fall into one of these areas... its probably very different with each corner. I find myself somewhere in the Live to Eat/Food Scholar zone--doing minimal cooking (more than Cabby, I'm sure!) and an increasing amount of restauranting as I get older. For the most part its not because I'm not interested in what goes into my food as much as the fact that its a key component of my personality that I have no patience--and a recognition that food preparation requires a great deal of patience. I have some intellectual curiousity about my food (although not nearly as much as someone like Cabrales, or even our noble founder, Jason Perlow), but its not enough to overcome other areas of interest in my life. I want to enjoy my food. My food matters to me. I'm interested in comparing food and optimizing my food experiences. But that's usually as far as things go.
Posted 23 January 2003 - 09:29 AM