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The Foodcommander's Aphorisms Of 2012

12/28/2012 01:01 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2013
  • The Foodcommander The Foodcommander is the creation of NY-based private chef and performer Daniel Isengart.
Flickr: JFXie

- Don't ask what your ingredients can do for you, ask what you can do with your ingredients.
- As a general approach, look no further than Pablo Picasso for guidance: "You must always work not just within but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way the ones you do handle, you will handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength and reserve." (Quote taken from Françoise Gilot's Memoir, Life with Picasso)
- Knowledge and confidence can only come through experience. While there may be more than one way of doing things right, there are myriad ways of doing things wrong. Thus, making mistakes is part of the learning process, and losses, at least in the case of food preparation, will be fairly tolerable - if not digestible.
- Don't be too hard on yourself when things go wrong in the kitchen, but avoid repeating mistakes. It might call your intelligence into question.
- If you cannot find within you a sense of playfulness while engaged in cooking, you might as well order in.
- Fear and anxiety have no place in the kitchen. If you're afflicted by either, get out and let someone else take over - you'll be doing everyone a big favor.
- There is no fun in following a recipe religiously. Rather, try to understand its underlying principles and take some liberties in the details.
- If your kitchen looks like a battlefield by the time you are ready to serve your home-cooked meal, you are advised to look for another hobby, preferably one that won't fuel resentment in those who will have to clean up after you - unless there is no one but yourself to do the cleanup, in which case you might ask yourself if being a self-contained act shouldn't also entail being better organized as to not make a mess.
- There is not such thing as healthy food. There is only good food and bad food on the one hand, and healthy and unhealthy eating habits on the other.
- Eating well should mean feeling well not just during but also after a meal.
- At least since The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, it should be clear to anyone that moderate meat consumption is becoming a civic responsibility. Vegetarianism and veganism (which is nothing but strict vegetarianism with added attitude) however, medical conditions notwithstanding, are and always have been for demagogues.
- The practice of eating out regularly may fine-tune your palate (as well as lighten your wallet and expand your midriff) but it won't teach you anything about cooking unless you are already an experienced cook. Don't confuse one with the other. You don't expect to know how to cut and style your own hair just because you've been seeing a barber or hairdresser for years either, do you.
- New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz recently coined the term Neo-Verity to describe a new form of performance art that blends artifice and reality in ways the critic goes on to compare to the visible money shot in porn: something real and unreal at the same time. The same principle has already applied for ages to cooking shows and food magazines. The "money shot" that Saltz refers to is the equivalent of a television chef tasting his own food on camera.
- There is a reason cooking shows are increasingly referred to as "food porn": Everything tastes better on camera. But just as watching porn isn't equal to having sex, cooking shows are not about cooking: they are about watching someone else cook or, even more likely, pretend to cook.
- Likewise, cookbooks have become mere extensions of syndicated brands and act like coffee table books: they just lie there and look pretty. Open one up every now and then. If nothing else, you might be amused by the gratuitous name-dropping and insane amounts of butter some recipes call for. Examples for either can be currently found in My Beverly Hills Kitchen by frozen food producer Alex Hitz.
- Finally, know that nothing good happens without enthusiasm. Cooking can be a chore, a job, a necessity, and a doleful duty, but also an adventure, a game, a joy, a gift. You decide.

In early 2013, watch for The Foodcommander's upcoming articles on pantry inventory, cleaning products, and cooking equipment, plus a recipe for a wholesome meat-free dish that will soothe your conscience as well as your palate after this drawn-out season of culinary excesses.