Is Cooking an art?
Cooking is just cooking. Cooking starts of as just a process to learn and then It becomes an art in the hands of an able master. A master chef would say that the best food is not made by its ingredients, but the way it is made with it. There is a lot of philosophy associated with Cooking than just following recipes. Recipes are mere guides. The universal truth about cooking is:
“The same dish cannot be made the same way, again!”
Even master chefs would agree to this. They would make it tasty every time, but it may not look or feel or even taste the same every time.
So what has Zen got to do with Cooking? Everything!
There may be a lot of aspects to cooking, but according to me there are 4 aspects that will make a particular food, the best product of art ever.
Hospitality is not just about how you treat the guests. It is about how you bring your guests and set them free in the confines of your environment. The guest can be anyone – a new friend, or a relative or even the family in the house.
This is an aspect of cooking that happens before the chef even enters the kitchen. We can refer this to ambiance in a restaurant to an extent. We always have some anxiety in a new place. Hospitality is about letting that go away and making them comfortable. Only a relaxed mind, a mind that is free, a mind that is sure about its environment, will be able to taste the goodness in a good food. Even Wolfgang puck would need this for his food to taste good.
I know this is abstract, but a little prior knowledge about the guest will help you make this happen. This is where the non-cooking member plays an important role in cooking (see the paradox here?). They can make the person feel comfortable by talking things of their interest or indulging in simple activities of their interest that can free their mind.
This is what they call it as – ‘BE AT HOME’
How would you like to have your food? In a Clean Plate or In a plate that is not washed?
If you answered Clean plate, then why should you start cooking in a dirty kitchen? Space is precious. According to Zen, Space and the Material world go together. They are different entities, yet they cannot be separated and hence they are one. Would you know how to define space if there was nothing but space in this world and vice versa?
So it is very important to start cooking in a space that is clean, that is devoid of anything from your previous stint of cooking. Just like how the universe appeared from the void or singularity, your cooking should also start from nothing or Shoonya (Zero) or empty space.
A Clean space will indicate a clean mind, a clean mind with no prejudices and hence the cooking will start with no silly assumptions from before. You will be creative each time. Why do you think programmers like to write the code from Scratch? Why do you think Mothers clean the kitchen space before hitting the bed every night?
Start with a Clean Slate everyday!
When Arjuna was learning to shoot the arrow, he was asked what he saw through his eyes, as he aimed. He said he saw the eyes of a bird. When he shot the arrow after that, he didn’t think even for a second. He just shot it.
So if you know what to do and figured out how to do, just do it. The moment you think as you do, you will likely be derailed from the original plan. You may end up spoiling the dish. But at the same time, if you think you can add a pinch of salt more than what the recipe says, then just add it without thinking. That will be spontaneous. Your alterations to the recipe should also happen in a spontaneous way. Also, the alterations you did today, may not work the same way the next day, so don’t bother to take notes of those alterations.
Just feel the flow, and be spontaneous. Why do you think a Mother’s food tastes the best in the world. It is because she knows you more than you think she does and she cooks the food in a spontaneous way which will make you love it! That is why it is called the Mother’s touch. It is her spontaneous alterations that suits the needs of the family, makes it taste the best in the world.
What is on your mind today? Happiness or Sorrow or Jealousy or any kind of emotions? Your food that you cook will reflect what is in your mind. So what is the best emotion that should be on your mind when you cook? Is it Happiness or should we not have any emotion at all?
It is Love that you should have in your mind when you cook. When you mind is full of love for your family and yourself , your food will taste fantastic. You can’t hate yourself and still love others, only when you love yourself (which is not the same as self centered) you will be able to love others. It flows from the inside to outside.
A Mother’s food tastes the best because of the love she radiates from within herself to the whole family. We fail to see that in her most of the times, but we sure enough love the food that she cooks. What we like is not just the tasty food, but we indirectly feel that love. And when you tell her that you enjoyed the food very much, that is all the acknowledgment she needs, to know that her love has reached you.
Cook like a mother, with all the love in your mind.
Here is an Imaginary Conversation with the Wife:
Wife: “You don’t cook much or often. All you did was a silly Rasam when you were a Bachelor! How can you even write an article on the art of cooking?”
Me: “Why not! Did Vatsayana, before writing his book, ever …” (Wife Interrupts).
Wife: “Enough, I got the point. Now, Let’s keep your blog at PG!”