Artists have been my personal heroes for as long as I can remember. I've always been moved by people who devote their lives to creating something unique; something that solely belongs to them but is also shared with the world for the sake of pleasure.
I consider great cooks to be artists. I'm not only speaking of professional chefs but of everyday folk, who passionately ply their craft in the privacy of their own homes and share it with family and friends. Eating in the home of a great cook, to me, is a thrill and a blessing. Not only do I get to eat great food but it's titillating to watch how other people prepare and serve their food. From their kitchen rituals, to how they chop and garnish -- I learn so much in the process. Everyone has their own style and flair and it reminds me that there's more than one right way of doing something.
Perhaps that's the problem: so much of our creativity gets shut down because we think that anything that veers from the norm isn't right. I am here to tell you that that is a load of crap. Once you learn the essentials of your craft -- whatever it is -- you are free to deviate and put your own stamp on it. It takes courage to stay your course -- to trust your process and as any creative person will tell you, it's when you allow yourself to let go, to get messy and allow mistakes to happen, that's when things get juicy.
I am a creature of habit. I will do the same thing over and over even when I know it's not working for me, so I like having tools around that aid and abet my creativity and personal freedom.
In the kitchen, having a pantry of high quality ingredients and products that move me is key for allowing me to improvise and create amazing meals. The book The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, who's cover you see here, is another great tool.
The book is a reference guide to hundreds of ingredients, everything from apples to zucchini and every herb, spice, spirit and cuisine in between. Each item has its own description in terms of flavor profile, season, and the best techniques and tips for using it. It also has suggestions and knowledge from some of America's greatest chefs.
But that's hardly the best part.
This book is the kitchen improviser's bible because it lists all the matching flavor affinities for each ingredient! So say you have beets in your fridge and you're not sure what to do with them. Not only will the book give suggestions on cooking them, but it lists all the other flavors, ingredients, herbs and spices that go well with beets in alphabetical order: avocado, Crème Fraîche, mustard, pistachios, walnuts and yogurt to name a few. Then it also lists perfect flavor combinations, such as:
beets + citrus + goat cheese + olive oil + shallots
beets + olive oil + Parmesan cheese + balsamic vinegar
beets + honey + tarragon
Imagine this kind of information listed for every ingredient you can think of!
Just for kicks, here's another example:
chicken + garlic + pancetta + sage + thyme
chicken + cream + grapefruit + pink peppercorns
chicken + coconut + galangal + shiitake mushrooms
chicken + basil + cinnamon
I don't know about you but I find this terribly exciting! These pairings make my mouth water. That's what makes this volume invaluable. Once you've used it for a while, you gain a more natural sense of what goes with what, which will lend itself in numerous creative and tasty ways in your cooking. Learning the essentials and then riffing on that in your own style is precisely what makes a great cook. I think one of the privileges of being human is that we get to develop our style, our character, to know who we are and what we stand for in the scheme of things. Cooking and eating is a brilliant, fun and tasty way to develop that.
This is an excerpt from the blog Real Food Rehab.
(c) 2009 Dana Joy Altman, Real Food Rehab, Inc.