Jeff Keys' ruminative author
piece had me thinking about the solitude of cooks--not just
chefs like Keys, who bear the responsibility for feeding and
pleasing tables and tables of visitors every night, but home cooks
Personally, I like company in the kitchen. It takes the
edge off after a long day, and it makes the expectation we all
face--coming up with something for everyone to eat in an hour or
so--less of a burden. I like chitchatting with my husband
while he fixes me something to drink.
Yet there are parts of my cooking brain which remain completely
solitary, even with my kids lobbing questions across the kitchen,
or the welcome laughter of guests floating high in the steam.
There's a part that's tracking the progress of the chicken.
There's a part trying to remember if there's any more dill in
the garden. There's another part converting tablespoons to ounces.
And since cooking is a full-contact sport, there's another
part looking out for sharp things and hot things, not always
In the end, though, we're the captains of a ship that has to get
into port somehow or other, and soon. Cooking makes us
leaders even when, in other parts of our lives, we don't think of
ourselves as leaders. We may dither over exactly which shade of
ivory to paint the walls, or what brand of fabric softener to buy.
But when it comes to literal matters of taste, all such
wavering falls away.
Perhaps you've heard the Spanish proverb: How many people
does it take to make a salad dressing? Four: A
profligate for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, a judge for the
salt, and a madman to mix it all together. We cooks contain
multitudes, even when there's no one else in the room. And
that means that even when we're cooking alone, we are rarely