FOOD FOR THOUGHT - September 1, 2004 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Archive
Are you fearful of cooking? For some it is a mundane chore, to others a joyous hobby, and for some, an absolute terror. An anxiety plagued agony that drives them to a microwaved dinner before a stove.
Cooking phobia, if I may coin a new phrase, like any other phobia, has multiple etiologies. Many who are anxious about cooking never learned how to cook. There are countless households where eating out and/or quick, convenient, processed foods were the norm. These folks’ fears are due to the lack of self-confidence that their deficient culinary heritage engendered.
Others may have had cooking disasters coupled with criticism from the dinner recipients. A dry Thanksgiving turkey or a burnt roast for dinner, supplemented by a few ill-placed cracks from hubby at the cocktail party and that’s it. The only thing this person is making for dinner any more is reservations. And let’s face it; a failed dinner is quite a disappointment. If the new recipe turns out to be a flop, what do you do? You’ve just wasted all that money, food, and time to end up ordering pizza.
But I think the dread of cooking catastrophes goes even deeper. Food has significant psychological implications. Food goes way beyond basic survival; it “feeds” us emotionally as well. Think of how good you feel, (emotionally, not physically), when you have a satisfying meal. Consider these culturally based practices and idioms regarding food:
* It is considered proper social etiquette to offer guests, at the very least something to drink, if not also to eat.
* Similarly, the practice of bringing food and drink to a gathering you are invited to.
* The phrase: “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
* The universal question, “How was the food?” when discussing a wedding or a party someone attended.
* The fact that some people and/or cultures consider it rude to not eat their food or even finish your plate.
* The use of the criteria “he/she is a good cook” to describe a potential mate’s virtues.
* The practice of making a romantic dinner to impress your girlfriend or boyfriend.
* And finally, the fact that almost every celebration or holiday the world over, centers around some kind of ceremonial feast.
Food is a vehicle for nurturing people. A way of showing love, affection, and hospitality, for breaking the ice socially, for expressing gratitude, for celebrating life, and even for coping with death, e.g., the repast that customarily takes place after a burial. It serves a multitude of emotional functions that have become inextricably woven into the fabric of our interpersonal world.
It is no wonder then that many individuals become anxious about food preparation and service. If their offerings fall short, there’s a sense of failing the people they were intended for. A primordial dread of not meeting their needs and adversely affecting the emotional bond. Not to mention the feared negative appraisals assumed to be forthcoming, whether spoken or not.
So how do we overcome our fear of cooking? First, it helps to keep in mind the great diversity in human taste. The best chef in the world could prepare an assemblage of his signature dishes and virtually everyone would find something they didn’t like. A person’s dislike of your victuals could easily be a function of their particular palate and not a measure of your culinary capabilities or emotional goodwill.
The next step is facing your fear and learning the skills to conquer it. Like anything, a combination of the textbook and the real world is the ticket. For the former, watch cooking shows, buy cookbooks, subscribe to magazines, and take some cooking classes. Learn about food science, the nature of various ingredients, and cooking methods.
For the latter, practice, practice practice. Try to make something that you have never made before at least once a week. Choose a cooking technique that you’ve never employed or are weak in, or an ingredient that you have never used. For example, maybe you’ve made mashed potatoes but never a potato gratin. Or maybe you’re good at sautéing steaks and lamb chops but never sautéed a piece of sea bass. It’s time to try.
TV, books, magazines, and the Internet will provide you with more recipes than you could make in a lifetime. Make it for yourself first so there’s no fear of ruining someone’s dinner. If it doesn’t come out right, go back to the drawing board and make it again until it does. The first time I made crepes at home I prepared a large batch of batter and just stood there over the pan making crepe after crepe until I got it down pat. Somewhere around the 20th crepe I started to feel comfortable. The more you learn and practice, the more confident you will become.