Monday, August 10, 2009

Windy City Cooking: Week 2


[Ed.'s note- every Monday, Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column about eating and preparing food in The City That Works. Have at it, Jason! -Max]

Loving to Cook
By Jason Hissong
9 August 2009

        People often ask me where I learned to cook. Or how I learned to cook. And the answer I usually give is this: I needed to feed myself. I didn’t go to school to learn how to cook. I didn’t grow up in a household that has an established ancestry of amazing cooking. I learned to cook because I needed to eat.
        I think the more interesting question is: why do you love to cook. It’s the more interesting question because the answer is always changing. I first loved to cook because I love to eat. Food and I have never had a disagreement. We’ve always been good pals, and continue to be so.
        But that only gets me so far. I love to cook because of its transformative nature. It takes raw ingredients and transforms them into something good. Something different and new that’s aesthetically pleasing. And, hopefully, something that tastes good, and satisfies our bodies’ needs.
        I love to cook because I become very Zen about the process. It demands my undivided attention because the dish is going to burn, or be undercooked, or the flavor won’t taste right if I neglect a step or ingredient. It demands a present attention. I can’t be thinking about anything else lest I destroy my dish.
        I love to cook because it brings people together. I oftentimes have a difficult time cooking for just myself. It seems like too much effort, and too many dishes, and too much time, to make a couple of dishes for a good meal on a Wednesday night. On the other hand, I’ll have no problem spending my New Year’s Day planning, grocery shopping, and cooking seven dishes for the evening’s dinner party. Knowing that I’m cooking for a group of people inspires me to give it a far better effort than I do for myself. I can’t have my guests leaving unsatisfied. And save for one sauce at one particular dinner party that was vegan-centric, I don’t believe I have.
        I love to cook because it’s thanksgiving for every meal. Not turkey and stuffing in November thanksgiving. Michael Pollan, at the end of his incredible book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, writes about his desire to say a few words of grace while serving his dinner guests a meal he had (mostly) hunted and gathered himself. He writes, “I realized that in this particular case words of grace were unnecessary. Why? Because that’s what the meal itself had become, for me certainly, but I suspect for some of the others, too: a wordless way of saying grace.” I’ve never created a meal that I’ve hunted and gathered myself, but I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor. Pollan’s words here describe better than I ever could the feeling I get when I get to turn away from the heat and exhaustion of the kitchen and sit down with my guests and, finally, eat.
        My meals, the ones I cook for others, are themselves thanksgivings. Not just of the food, the friendships, and life, but of all those things and more. That’s why I love to cook. That’s why I’ve learned to cook: to give thanks to what’s around me.


        What I’ve cooked this week: grilled salmon with rice, grapes, and mushrooms. Pancakes on Sunday morning. Braised pork tenderloin with green beans and bread.
        What others have cooked for me this week: an incredible grilled chicken, baked thin potato rounds and ginger braised broccoli. Thanks David.
        Where I’ve eaten this week: barbeque beef shawarma with pita at Babylon. Grilled chicken bacon & cheese sandwich with on-tap Rogue Dead Guy at Logan Bar & Grill. And three chicken tacos with avocados at Fast Super Burrito. At 3 a.m. on Saturday night.

1 comment:

  1. "I'll have no problem spending my New Year's Day planning, grocery shopping, and cooking seven dishes for the evening's dinner party."

    You forgot to mention that you are even willing to slice your finger off :) Good article.