Recipes. To some, they are the bane of creativity; to others, they are a safety net that gives them the confidence to experiment in making new dishes. However, recipes can, at times, lock certain people into a preconceived notion of what one must do to make “good food.” Ultimately, “good food” is subjective. Whatever you personally find tasty is “good food.” If you like extra zucchini in your ratatouille, by all means, feel free to add more. If you like mustard and mayonnaise on toast with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, be my guest — although I may not have any of that.
During the past few years of cooking, I learned that — at least for me — the magic truly awoke once I developed the ability to use recipes as a starting point and an inspiration for what I cook. I have learned to experiment and to try new combinations of ingredients and flavors, and in doing so, both my technical skills and confidence in the kitchen have improved.
While living in the co-ops for the past two years, I have seen and met people with varying degrees of cooking ability. There are people who can transform any sort of ingredient into delectable food that leaves you craving more, and there are people who cook foods that put you on the verge of making you sick. Now, I consider myself to be an above-average cook but by no means an amazing one. I have perceived, over the past few years, that the biggest struggle for a budding cook is a lack of confidence in the kitchen.
As long as you are not baking, cooking can, for the most part, be freeform. Yes, there are basics you want to stand by — the two-to-one ratio of water to rice, for instance — but experimentation and imagination are some of the more liberating, and dare I say exhilarating, aspects of cooking.
Eggs are a great place to start. Let’s say you are scrambling them. If they are dry and curdling, cook them for less time and with less heat. If the eggs are too wet for your liking, cook them a bit more. Not enough salt? Add some more. The secret to food is learning what you like, and you can’t learn what you like if you don’t taste the food you are making. If you keep tasting and keep practicing, eventually you will reach a level of competence where you are proud to share what you cook with your friends.
Even so, competence should not be your end goal, because much like taste, the idea of it is subjective. The true measure of whether a dish is successful or not is whether you enjoy making it, eating it and sharing it. So grab some friends, get some ingredients, trust your gut and go cook!