I love to cook. Okay, maybe love is an understatement. I love watching beef brown in a pan, love hearing the sizzle when a shank hits the grill, love the feel of fresh herbs when you pluck them from your garden and the residual smell of Dill on my hands. Cooking is like free falling for me. I think of a dish (or an ingredient) I would like to make, type in a few keywords into the all-knowing Google search bar and its all instinct from there. I wish I could give you a better description, but recipes speak to me. I just know when I’ve found the perfect recipe, even if they include ingredients like Saffron (that, for your information costs about USD$3/gram) and Heirloom tomatoes (impossible to find).
Just yesterday, I was sifting through recipes during work and trying to stealthily prevent my colleagues from discovering pictures of mouthwatering chicken stews waving to them on my computer screen, and I happened to chance upon Cat Cora’s (First ever female iron chef, mother, pretty woman and every feminist chef’s dream come true) chicken stew recipe. At first I was like woah woah woah, this is a must make. Even if it calls for half a bottle of white wine. (You should know that I have had minor accidents in the kitchen while handling alcohol. Some include getting high near an open flame while trying to finish up the left over red from my beef stew and almost lighting my kitchen on fire while attempting to flambé quails in Cognac.) Actually, cooking is easy, if you’re able to follow instructions and pick out the right recipes, you should have no problem whipping up something moderately palatable. But I guess to me, cooking really is about experimenting. Back to the Cat Cora story. So I bookmarked that page and got ready to choose a bottle of cheap white from my cellar and suddenly I felt odd about Cat Cora. No, not the chef herself. To be honest, I am deathly afraid of her actually. The way she yells at people on Iron Chef? No thank you. When the right recipe finds you, you’re supposed to be smiling. Whether or not there are pictures of the final dish on the site, whether or not there are a million reviews raving about how it’s a 5 billion star recipe (true story), whether or not it came from a site like food.com or some dubious place like nytimes.com (the chicken stew recipe that ultimately spoke to me came from here. No joke.). The perfect recipe makes you feel like the dish is going to be a hit, even with your grumpy aunt who seems to hate all cuisine and all meat types. Its supposed to make your tummy rumble even before you’ve gone down to the grocer to get your ingredients. Its supposed to make you want to match it gram for gram, salt grain for salt grain so you don’t mess up.
Key word: Supposed. Because when I cook, I never follow the recipe. I mean I do to a certain extent. I add sage into the minced pork because the recipe said so, just that I add the entire pack instead of the recommended amount of 2 tablespoons. I add laughter, I add love, I add a broken pepper grinder to the recipe, even when not required. Sometimes I add tears, I add heartbreak and a dash of determination to live a little better. There will never be a perfect recipe, only recipes that speak to you and tell you “Hey, you might want to give me a try.” Just like how in life, people may hand you recipes that, tried and proven, is the route to a perfect life. But only you will know how much disappointment, pain and sorrow, how much happiness, joy and laughter you have to put in it to make it YOUR perfect life. You. Cooking is about finding out what you want. There will never be too much salt in a dish, just someone with too low a tolerance.