Learning to cook was not an option for me.
My mother is of a generation and culture that believed that young ladies should be skilled in the domestic arts in order to be marriageable. I was a reluctant student and I resented being called in from playtime to help prepare meals. Cooking seemed boring and repetitious, but baking, well, baking was what hooked me...measuring, stirring; the alchemy of watching liquid batter turn to soft, solid yumminess...better than a day at the park.
Looking back at that time, I never dreamed that cooking would become not only an occupation and profession, but a preoccupation and an obsession.
Over the years, I have cooked in many capacities: caterer, wedding cake baker, cooking instructor, private chef, pastry chef, and various positions in professional kitchens. It has occurred to me lately that of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of dishes that I have prepared, only a sad few can I recall having cooked for me. I have always tailored food for the diners, clients, students, chefs, family, friends, and have had to take into account limitations of space, time, equipment, and product.
What if I could cook whatever I wanted with no limitations?
There has never been a better time to be a chef. No, I am not referring to the star chef phenomena, but to the heightened awareness of food that has gone mainstream. Even in my little rural corner of Northwest Connecticut, I have access to amazing products: artisanal cheeses and bread, raw milk, grass-fed beef, heirloom fruits and vegetables, and ethnic products from around the world. There are also new techniques and movements to explore, the most exciting of these being the application of science to cooking, aka avant garde cuisine or molecular gastronomy.
A new year calls for a new approach.
I feel like a kid at the playground.