THREE THINGS I LEARNED FROM COOKING CLASSES

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I’ve reached the point in my vocational journey where my passion for cooking surpasses my culinary abilities.

Last summer I seriously researched going to culinary school.  But – at least for now – this pursuit does not fit into our resources of time or money.

Recently I have been able to take several cooking classes at Sur La Table.  It’s not culinary school, but it still is pretty great to experience some growth in these skills.

So far I have completed four classes:

  • Learn to Cut Like a Pro
  • Cooking without Recipes
  • Essential Skills Every Cook Should Know
  • Mediterranean Flavors

This past week as I chopped, mixed, kneaded, and sauted using my new gastronomic savvy, I realized that three cooking principles provide guidance in navigating many areas of my life:

  1. RATIOS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN FORMULAS

You can do a lot more as a cook if you understand the ratios of preparing food, not just the formula of a recipe.  For example, the foundation of every sponge cake is a 1:1:1:1 ratio.  You can make most standard cakes simply by using the same amount of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs (by weight not volume), and then adding optional ingredients (vanilla, spices, etc) to meet your tastes and cravings.  

When you understand the ratio of a cake (and invest in a kitchen scale!) you no longer need to depend a formula (aka a recipe) in order to create something amazing.

Truthfully, deep down, I want a formula to help me manage everything in my life.  

And I want my formulas to work every time.  

But every formula I have tried for faith-based living (X + Y – Z = success) has eventually failed.  

Perhaps a happy and fruitful life is found in pursuing a balanced ratio rather than grasping at the empty promise of a formula.

The ratio of how I’m investing my time in faith, family, community, work, rest, play, and personal growth matters – but attempting to force my life into the allotted wedges of a time/schedule/balance pie chart has failed miserably.

I just need to remember that all these things work together as a ratio, not a rigid formula.  My soul feels purposeful and at peace when I spend time investing in each of these areas every week.  But it’s okay if the amount of time spent in any one area – based on my needs and others – varies from day to day.

  1.  TECHNIQUE MATTERS MORE THAN TOOLS OR INGREDIENTS

Cooking always involves three critical elements – tools, ingredients, and technique.  

We live in a consumer nation where marketers of products want us to believe that the tools or the ingredients matter the most.  But, as my chef instructor pointed out, if you travel to a third world country and eat homemade bread made by a village grandma on her cracked and broken pot, you will quickly realize that technique is what matters most in creating amazing food.

This has made me think a lot about how often I get distracted by thinking what I need most is a product to help me master a skill or accomplish a goal.  

I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s.  The heyday of marketing when almost every home owned a television, both parents went to work, and children began watching a lot of unsupervised television.  And the invention of DVR’s had not made fast-forwarding commercials possible, nor had the existence of the internet made fact-checking easy.   

As much as I hate to admit it, consumerism is woven into my psyche.  As a grown-up it still takes intentional effort to resist the lure and promise of products.  I am always tempted to hitch my wagon to the hope of product’s ability to enable me reach a goal or achieve a dream (ie stylish workout clothes and a fitness tracker will motivate me to exercise regularly, and converting one of our backyard sheds into a beautiful writing cottage will create the space I need to become a successful writer.)

In reality what I need to do the most is show up every day with what I already have and do the very unglamorous work of developing my skills.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not legalistic about this either.  It’s fun to get a new tool (ie my kitchen scale) or to use new ingredients (I just added sumac to my spice collection to recreate authentic mediterranean flavors at home).  I just don’t want to allow my growth to be held stalled because I’m trapped in the mindset that attaining specific products is a prerequisite to success.

  1.  RELY ON EXPERIENCE RATHER THAN INSTRUCTIONS

This is the biggest challenge I face in using my new culinary knowledge.  I still want to use my recipes like a security blanket.  They are comforting because they ensure a moderate level of success.  

But like letting go of the edge of the pool to enjoy the freedom of playing in the deep end with the big kids – I have to start cooking using the experience and knowledge I have already attained.  And not just from cooking classes, but from 20 years of cooking for my family.  

I know more about cooking than I think I do.  I’ve just never tested myself by relying on my culinary experience more than a published recipe.

What other areas of my life are held up because I’m too careful about relying on instructions rather than trusting instincts that are rooted in years of practice?

I want to live a life of creativity that is a little less reliant on the security of concrete instructions, and a little more adventurous by acting on knowledge already attained.

What life lessons has a new skill taught you?

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2 thoughts on “THREE THINGS I LEARNED FROM COOKING CLASSES

  1. “What life lessons has a new skill taught you?”

    I would say that when I learned how to sail a few years back I was always really focused on the trip as a whole – where we were going, how to get there, how long would it take. But with sailing, the destination is not the point. The journey is all that matters. The wind and the water look different every day and adapting to what you are given and enjoying the ride is the mark of a successful trip. You can’t fight the elements, you must use them to your advantage. In looking at my faith, I think of the Holy Spirit as the wind and I must trim my sails in order to catch what He is doing and where He might be directing me. I don’t need to be focused on where I end up. I’ll have a general idea of the direction I need to point, but a specific path is not required nor is it likely to happen the way I plan.

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