To cook well is to nourish those you love; not only by filling their bellies, but also by feeding their hearts and souls. Even if you nearly kill them doing it, dammit.
To cook well is to ensure the people you love are nourished. Not only in the sense that the Vitamin D in your ricotta dumplings will keep their backs from curling like a shrimp tail when they get old, but also to nourish their hearts and souls.
When my husband Mike and I were dating, I did my best to create love on a plate every time he crossed my threshold. (That isn’t a euphemism, I literally mean every time he came over to my house.) I took the old saying: “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” seriously. I knew there was another woman after him at the time, and I was determined to cook the bitch, ah, I mean the girl, under the table. I would show him true love in every morsel.
One day, Mike mentioned reading that the secret to McDonald’s fries, his favorites, were that they put a little bit of sugar in the salt shaken on top.
There it was, I thought. I would reproduce McDonald’s fries.
The next day I slaved away making the fries with the secret ingredient, each perfectly julienned. Even Ronald would be proud of me, I thought happily to myself, creepy clown that he was.
That night at dinner I sat beside Mike, watching him like a psychopath, waiting for him to erupt into euphoria over my amazing fries. Perhaps he would encourage me to start a chain of my own, or impulsively drop to one knee and propose. Anything was possible.
He ate a fry. His chewing slowed. He swallowed. He popped another in his mouth. Again his chewing slowed. His brow knitted in confusion — or possibly that was just the face people made while fighting a gag reflex, I’m not sure. He swallowed hard and looked at me.
“Did you put sugar in these?” he asked, his voice going up to that high incredulous tone that lets you know it is really more of an accusation than a question.
Whoops. “You said McDonald’s put sugar in their fries and that’s what made them so good…” I said.
“Ohmygod,” said Mike, starting to laugh. “I’m sorry, these are terrible…”
Sugar fries flopped. Nearly 10 years later, every time someone compliments my cooking Mike will start laughing and immediately launches into,”You should try her fries…”
Were the fries cooked well? Maybe, if you are in the small percentage of people who love sugar fries. But even though Mike is not a sugar fry fan, he was touched that I would try so hard to make him something special. That I had listened to him, heard his desires and tried to make him happy. Sugar fries were a success.
So whether you cook a masterpiece every night, or you have the nerve to fail miserably in the pursuit of the perfect meal, cooking well is all in your good intentions to nourish those around you. Whether they need food… or simply need to feel loved.
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