Tonight’s meal needs to be important.
It’s been an insane couple of weeks. There have been earthquakes and missing relatives, visiting siblings, last minute business schleps and a death in the family. All during the most important couple of weeks of my career to date.
It may not shock you to learn that all of this happening at once tends to impact your emotional health.
Tonight’s meal needs to be important because my brother and his fiancee are returning from the continental part of their Eurotrip.
They visited Scrib’s adopted home town. If I’d known I would have made my brother buy him a birthday beer. (Awesome birthday post here. Supports my theory that birthday posts can be unintended revelations in personal psychology. Put in as much effort as Scribs did and you’ll be rewarded for it.) No matter, I’ll have to buy the beer. Swap it for a guitar performance, maybe? If you take requests I’d like an unplugged cover of Price Tag. (Because that would be hilarious and possibly the best thing that has ever happened, not because it’s on trend.)
Tonight’s meal needs to be important because it will be the first one shared with an actual relative since my grandmother died. We’ll hopefully toast her name, watch a video of my-mother-the-psychonaut delivering the eulogy and my littlest brother delivering the poem I wrote, cry a little bit and then tomorrow head over to where she used to live here in London to say our goodbyes.
But it also needs to be celebratory because my brother’s fiancee had her birthday last weekend. And yes, It’ll be a sausage-based main followed by forced rhubarb crumble for reasons that will become evident if you read their post. The whole thing is actually going to be “proper English food” to cheekily wash the taste of the Continent right out of their minds. (Inspired mostly by this guy who probably isn’t very good at French.)
So I get my best west London on and return home to start the prep.
As I’m chopping the rhubarb I’m thinking: People in our corner of the internetz too often use the ‘a’ word when talking about home cooking.
But cooking isn’t alchemy because it can always be broken down into its constituent parts and reactions. There will never be more protein in your steak than when you first bought it. And applying heat won’t turn your steak into ice cream… It will still be steak.
Cooking is only alchemy if you can put a chicken in the oven and then, an hour later, pull out the sound that was playing on the radio when you first had your heart broken.
And I say this with abiding love for both disciplines and a little bit of skill in one of them: They’re different. They’re almost opposite.
Cooking is more like computer theory: garbage in, garbage out. That’s why the French and overexposed Essex brats bleat on about quality ingredients.
Continuing the computing metaphor… Alchemy is garbage in, immortality out. The eagle-eyed among you can probably spot the difference.
So, if not alchemy, what is cooking then?
Cooking, my darlings, is magic. Cooking is enhancement. It is about looking at what you have to use, picturing what you want to achieve and getting there.
Like magic, cooking, if you do it right, can bring out the best in something that is already there… but it can’t bring out something that isn’t there. Conversely, cooking, like doing magic right, can sometimes change the world.
Cooking is how you literally put love in your family, cooking is how you heal people, cooking is how you know you are learning, cooking is how you prove to yourself that you can take the shitty hand life has dealt and make it good.
Why do I care when I’m not even an alchemist even the teensiest bit? And when cooking is so very important to every aspect of my life? (Sidebar: You all know the amazing Lyn launched a recipe blog a while back, yeah? Subscribe!)
Well, because I respect the metaphor. We ALL respect the metaphor. Whatever game you are playing, it is ultimately about transmutation… About transcendence. These are Important Things. They are probably not best summed up by the image of you adding a can of mushrooms to some soup mix.
Alchemy -enlightenment- is binary. Either you have the philosopher’s stone or you don’t. Cooking is a continuum. Example: I met one of Gordon Ramsay’s latest chefs on the weekend (Scribs: amazing who you meet when you own an iPad)… Sweet kid. But definitely not an alchemist.
And unless you are an alchemist, then neither are you.