Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Self-Expression in the Art of Cooking

US Navy 100624-N-8132M-127 Culinary Specialist...
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Due to the fact that for most people the joy of cooking is a pleasure that ends in filling the belly with wholesome nutrients, many miss out on the element of self-expression in cooking. However those who are fearless enough to enter the world of foodstuffs and play with aromas and textures to create full-course meals, understand there is a genuine satisfaction that comes from all the chopping, mixing, brewing and heating that goes into making food. Your final dish is only as authentic as your good intentions for those who will eat what you make with your own hands.

While taking classes at one of the many cooking schools in your area is a great way to add flavorful recipes to your repertoire, there are some things that a cook learns through trial and error over time. There is an internal sensor that tells the cook when something is too sweet, not salted enough or too tart. Often, no spoon needs to come to the mouth for a cook to know that the seasonings are a bit off.

Following a recipe to the letter is an exercise in self-discipline designed to see if a cook can make a meal according to instructions. No recipe can tell a confident cook, though, how much salt to pinch into a pot of boiling water, how long to cook grits to get the right consistency or how to make fragrant, fluffy rice. If a cook has been in the kitchen long enough, knowing how much of certain ingredient to use becomes basic instinct. You learn how to flavor dishes to taste based on what has worked in the past.

Self-expression in cooking highlights the art of making food that is nutritious, gives off alluring scents and presents beautifully on a plate. A cook has a full range of tools to create scrumptious bouquets of color through steaming, fragrant pots and pans. Many who have lived years of a fast-paced life eating on the go and spending wild amounts of money on expensive restaurant fare are now returning to their own kitchens to discover their own creativity at a stove. For the most part this is driven by two factors: economics and health.

The slumping U.S. economy that has plagued almost every household in recent times has left fewer dollars in the average family budget to spend on dining out. Food shoppers have returned to their old habits of clipping coupons and buying groceries to stretch over several meals. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, in 2009, 59 percent of American families ate meals together at least five times a week. This is an increase from 47 percent in 1998. The trend started a few years ago. In 2007, families spent $2,668 on meals away from home, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of their meals. During that same time period, the amount spent on meals at home was $3,465.

With national obesity figures soaring to all-time heights, cooking at home is also an opportunity for families to get healthy. According to the American Heart Association, among adults aged 20 years and over, 145 million are overweight or obese. Among children ages two to 19, 23.4 million are overweight or obese. However choosing to eat at home allows people to have more control over portion sizes as well as what is put in their food, and fosters a healthier eating style in general, which is the best defense against obesity.

It does not matter if you have learned to cook through professional training, watching your mother or grandmother, gleaning good recipes from cable shows or leaped into it on your own at an early age, the act of self-expression in cooking is an act of love. You become enamored with the potential of food. You develop great affinity for your special cooking processes. You enjoy the way the food falls on the plate and puts on a show for you, and you love the sound of the mouths that devour what you have made with love and with your own gifted hands.

The above was written by Benjamin Castillo didn’t learn to cook until he found himself on his own for food after college, when he embarked on a quest to master the family recipes he grew up with. As a writer and editor, he promotes culinary education in hopes of helping people discover the satisfaction of cooking healthy food with real ingredients.

Karyn Zoldan
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