Mark Bittman, the reductionist food critic and cookbook author, published an interesting op-ed in the New York Times recently (“Make Food Choices Simple: Cook”) where he argues, in a simplistic fashion, that you (viz., American consumer of food) should cook more so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices when it comes to what to put in your mouth. If you read the article as someone who has come from a food tradition outside of the United States then it’s a slap in the face, but if you read the piece as someone who frequents Applebee’s and shops at big box supermarkets then maybe you’ve stumbled unto a great piece of advice (viz., cook high quality fresh food at home).
Bittman also argues a second point, although not as strongly as his first, that eating out is a frustrating and expensive proposition (even in large cities with well regarded restaurants). Both of Bittman’s claims are important and part of our culinary DNA here at Scordo; that is to say, cooking fresh food at home and not eating out were both central tenets we were raised to believe in and practice passionately. However, I wonder how difficult it is for a person who doesn’t come from a strong food tradition to ignore the temptation to eat out or buy cheap food to make at home?
How Long Does It Take to Find a Food Tradition?
Bittman seems to suggest that anyone can undergo a paradigm shift and begin seeing food as something that is exclusively produced at home using raw ingredients. While Bittman is correct that it’s somewhat easy to cook food at home it will take time, patience, and stubbornness to make it part of the typical American’s daily routine (afterall, the food traditions of, say, Italy, China, France, Mexico, etc. weren’t created overnight). And it’s much easier to buy cheap and poorly executed restaurant meals in the United States then it is to find fresh fish and decent tomatoes, for example.So, where does one start if they want to cook more at home? Here are our four strategies to help you embrace a food philosophy centered on cooking the best raw ingredients in your home kitchen:
Restaurants are evil places, so learn to avoid them. Most restaurants in the United States serve mediocre food; that’s right, even well regarded restaurants in large cities produce average food with low quality fresh and semi processed ingredients (this is not a claim based on quantitative research, rather it’s a hunch; we also have high standards when it comes to food and, for example, have been disappointed with many meals at “top” New York restaurants). And I won’t spend any time on the fact that A., restaurants have mark-ups beyond any form of logic (including liquor) and B., underpay their workforce and expect their customers to not only accept a high mark-up on ingredients and preparation but also supplement the waitstaff’s salary in the form of tips (would you take an 80% pay cut and leave it to whatever consumers you serve in your specific industry to pay your salary?). Click here for other reasons why you should avoid eating out.
Find peace with spending more on raw ingredients for your home kitchen. I’m constantly amazed when close friends tell me they refuse to pay extra for locally grown or organic produce, for example, yet carry a $125 per month data plan on their mobile device (read: setting priorities). The simple fact is the better your ingredients are the better your home cooking will turn out. And, in turn, if you’re satisfied with your meals at home you’ll end up eating out less and turning to the same raw ingredients at the market. You can find cheap ingredients and make economical meals but the goal is great food at home and not cheap food. G reat food, not good food, is what will turn you into a person who consistently cooks at home; even as a lover of pasta and beans I would crave some variety if I consumed the items every day, for example.
Practice, Practice, Practice. You don’t become a good home cook without failing miserably at first. In America, we are all under the impression that if one wants to accomplish something then they are entitled to that end goal. Well, when it comes to cooking (and my tennis game) and despite the claims from food experts, critics, and celebrity chefs, it takes time and practice to make good food at home (there are exceptions that I write about frequently). The good news is, however, that once one masters basic dishes, buying high quality ingredients, and some basic techniques, cooking at home will become rote and enjoyable.
Forget about being a “foodie” Anyone can stuff food in their mouth and offer an opinion on a local restaurant, pizza joint, deli, etc. but making high quality food at home has nothing to do with being a “foodie.” Just take a step back and ask yourself: was your Italian born grandmother a foodie? No, she was someone who understood basic ingredients and how to manipulate them and constantly churn out wonderful meals (in fact, your Nonna probably has more in common with the corporate efficiencies at IBM than any celebrity chef you’ll find on TV or random blogger espousing the virtues of a local restaurant).
Update: We’ve gotten a bit of flack for calling restaurants evil and we apologize if we’ve offended the hard working folks whose aim is to feed and serve people, however it’s our opinion and belief that people should aim to feed themselves so that they eat optimally.
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