I am not a great chef. I’m not even a mediocre chef: I am a passable home cook in my best days, and a roach-palleted philistine on most of the rest. For all my twittertalk of gourmet home cooked meals, in reality it’s mostly me making a meal wildly out of order (dessert salads!) and in bulk so I can freeze it for lunch. But when I have a nice piece of nature’s handiwork that I’m getting ready to cook; a sirloin, a fillet of fish, a portobello — there is only one commandment.
See, food? It’s amazing. Real food is sweet and complex and wonderful, even raw — especially raw. We have so much variety available now, and it’s easy to want to over-do it with wildly overthought culinary craziness. Wrap it in bacon, stuff it with bacon, truffle oil it and sous-vide in early harvest Malbec with creme anglaise and Krispy Kreme reduction. But when you have a line caught grouper steak on the griddle, what you should really be doing is trying not to ruin it, instead of trying to remember where your black volcanic finishing salt is for the chipotle-mole foie whip. Everything you add TO the fish cannot fix overcooked, ruined fish. So you must concentrate not on the darkest corners of your spice rack but on the basics of cookery. The temperature of the pan, the quality of the ingredients, alternating patience and measured attention until you have delivered on your promise to the beast that it did not die to become a Filet-o-Fish. Each thing you do to the meal beyond that is adding complexity and risk, and once you reach the end of your capabilities as a chef? You are just sabotaging the dish, then the meal, then sabotaging yourself. Because NOTHING is less satisfying than working for six hours to make the perfect chive and anchovy sauce to put on some cheese souffle best described as “malted chalk-glue”.
Consciously or unconsciously, these effort- and time-intensive failures predispose us against cooking at all, because if I just want a plain BURGER I can get it at BURGER TOWN, right? And this realization, the simple act of noticing that I fucked up a project because I spent too much time making the pointless gestures and belaboring decisions that make no difference? It has freed me from many failures. Simplicity is Clarity. It’s at the top of this page and at the heart of every blog I have had for twelve years. And every year, I discover in some fresh new way that I have been Doing It Stupid and I should be Doing It Simpler. That applies to everything in my life. From friendships to projects, from food to money, my entire goal is to not fuck things up by making them complicated. Automate it, maintain it, nip it in the bud, do not put off until tomorrow what should be done today, take whatever steps you must to do it right, but do NOT make it complicated.