I had an interesting relationship with school growing up. Like many teenagers, I much preferred extracurriculars than I did sitting in class. Lectures were my favorite time to space out. However, some courses sparked my interest at an early age; I am talking about art and science. Art is a beautiful thing; there are no rules, it’s pure expression. What’s not to like about that? Even if you suck at drawing like me, there’s a lot to love. Art is something words can’t explain, it comes from your heart and makes you feel things. Science, on the other hand, is filled with rules and facts. I probably would have been bored out of my mind if the class consisted of someone lecturing me about molecules. Instead, I learned about animals, plants, and how the world worked through experimentation. We dealt with variables, factors liable to change, every day. Change one variable slightly and the outcome is completely different. Both of these interests were from different worlds, and I felt the need to bring them together, taking my passion for nature and science and applying it to art. Sounds like groundbreaking discovery in my life, and I ended up drawing a bunch of trees and sunsets in photoshop. Super epic stuff, I know.
It wasn’t until I started working at Coqueta, a Spanish tapas restaurant in San Francisco, where everything started to make sense. Being around food, I felt at home. I had been cooking with my dad all my life, but I had to re-learn quite a bit, because now I was in a professional setting. Chef Michael Chiarello taught me the stories behind every dish. I learned that when we connect with our food on an emotional level, whether it sparks a memory or something we can relate to, we feel invested in the meal. Studies have shown that we enjoy our food more when we can connect to it in such a way. It began to resonate with me tremendously as the pieces started to click in my head that cooking is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than art. Preparing food is an art, it is the cooks rawest form of expression. I believe good food connects us to the person who made it, in a way that’s much more profound than tastebuds dancing and a full tummy. We become part of their story. This was actually the true groundbreaking discovery in my life. The collision between art and science is cooking. But in order to begin to dive into the “art” side of cooking, we must first understand the science.
A shoulder injury cut my time at Coqueta short. Being out of work, I spent many hours researching different cooking techniques and experimenting in my kitchen. When my shoulder got better, I decided to branch out and took a job working with Richard Visconte of Visconte Catering. As a catering chef, you must learn to adapt to almost every condition, continually figuring out solutions on the fly because we are always dealing with a new kitchen, whether it’s in someone’s house, or a makeshift kitchen outside, there are always many variables at play. Chef Visconte specializes in Argentine BBQ, and this is where I learned the most. Cooking outdoors is my favorite thing to do in the world, I feel so blessed to call it my job. Cooking with fire is difficult because there is nothing constant about it. Our nose, eyes, hands, and ears are the best tools you can get while cooking with flame. Fire can be a bit unpredictable, so there are many more variables at play than in a regular kitchen. Whether working in a restaurant, in someone’s home, or manning a large outdoor BBQ, the most important thing I’ve learned is not to trust the timing called out in recipes. Always keep a thermometer close by and take temperatures frequently. There are too many hard to predict variables for any recipe to be completely reliable.
Variables In The Kitchen
Enough about me, let’s turn our attention to some of the problems we may face in our kitchens. Sometimes we just want to come home and make something mouthwatering for dinner without having to experiment or use too much energy. So what do we do? Grab a recipe either online or from a book off the shelf and get crackin’. Before we know it, our masterpiece is beginning to look like a huge disappointment. We think to ourselves, “I followed it exactly, what could I have done wrong?” The truth is you may have done nothing “wrong.” Every time we cook dinner, we are conducting a science experiment. There are many variables in our kitchen that we overlook. For example, no two ovens heat precisely the same (size, material, gas vs. electric, convection, etc). Medium high heat on one stove may be medium-low heat on another stove (induction vs. gas vs. electric). When it comes to ingredients, two lemons don’t taste the same when they come from the same tree, let alone different parts of the world. Morton Kosher Salt and Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt don’t taste the same. Morton’s is significantly saltier due to different sized crystals.
Recipes are meant to give you a foundation, and it is up to you to check temperatures often and taste throughout to make sure it is balanced perfectly for your palate. Cooking is not a passive experience; it requires attention, keeping an eye on the food as it transforms. Experiment with changing up the heat or amount of liquid; stir and play with your ingredients. Make it fun. When you keep watch of the dish as it evolves, you take control of the finished product, not to mention, get a good feel for how certain ingredients interact at different times in the cooking process.
Throughout our blog, we will be introducing you to recipes that help you become a better cook, not just tell you what to do and hope for the best. Of course, we’ll give you the quantities and times to give you an idea of what to expect, but we will also give you pointers and cues throughout the process, so you don’t let the unpredictable get the best of you. We will even give you resources and advice on modern technology that actually reduce variables all together such as sous vide. We have been in the same situations, frustrated that our recipes do not come out as we hoped. We want to give you the tools to manage any circumstance, so that you know what to look for throughout the process. Our mission is to give people the confidence they need to get excited in the kitchen, so we can create a tribe that learns and grows together.