Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why I Love to Cook

An introspective piece. Recently I think I may have identified why at root I enjoy cooking so much that I want to dedicate my life to it. Up until now the depth of my understanding was only able to acknowledge that I strongly value cooking, not why I do so. On thinking about my value of studying for my own personal benefit I think a deeper answer has been reached.

While cooking has interested me at some level all my life, it wasn't until a few triggers came late into my teenage years that the value truly flourished and came to light. When I was really young I thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through cookbooks as a hobby and daydreaming about making or trying all the wonderful things I found, but given my situation it just remained daydreaming. Most of my elders were extremely paranoid about the prospect of letting me cook for myself, so my enjoyment in the process was severely undermined by the fact I wasn't allowed to cook on my own terms, and some of my dishes were even ruined by my elders. Eventually my childhood interest just suffocated and I moved on, but I was still interested at points here and there.

I was always interested in cooking in a certain fashion, however. I never read a food magazine, and typical cooking shows were nearly intolerable. Simply making stuff taste good is not at all what interests me. Besides, I was still on the Standard American Diet back then, and I often ate to the point of feeling sick (since it took a lot of carb-laden food to satisfy my appetite) and wasn't enthused by the flavor of what I ate, so I didn't even value eating back then. I even literally wished I could go without eating forever, because it didn't taste that great and made me feel terrible, especially with my near-constant illnesses.

The first trigger came about by way of Alton Brown's television show Good Eats, which is absolutely the first and only cooking show I've enjoyed watching. His show is different. He doesn't just take a bunch of ingredients and show how to make isolated dishes, he also tries to teach the causation behind food, why they act the way they do when you treat them in certain ways. It held my interest so intensely that I found I even enjoyed watching the same episodes repeatedly, which is strange in my television-viewing habits since I'll usually refuse to see something ever again after having seen it once. I probably watched the episode on chili at least three or four times, and wouldn't mind seeing it again. I became a very strong fan of the series; quickly it boosted my motivation to begin cooking again, starting with some of the recipes from the show. Still, however, this was not enough, as cooking at this point only seemed like some side-interest that ranked below that of a hobby.

The second trigger came through my transitioning to the Paleo diet. When Diana Hsieh recommended Good Calories, Bad Calories on her blog my nutritional views drastically altered and I began dropping sugar and grains in favor of fat and protein. Oddly enough I didn't expect any health benefits -- I thought I was already eating healthy and that Paleo would only increase my lifespan and disease resistance -- but soon my body changed rapidly. I dropped about thirty pounds and became lean as a rail, my acne disappeared, food tasted much better and didn't make me ill, my mood stopped swinging with my blood-sugar, and more. Most of all, I began thinking about food more and more. I spent several months clueless as to what to allow myself to eat -- sticking almost fiercely to eggs, bacon, spinach, and almond flour -- but eventually I became very curious about different foods, moving myself to try new things such as jicama, Dubliner cheese, raw milk, beef heart, Brazil nuts, dark chocolate, and other things that have never graced my palate before. Through my trials my food values and taste memory expanded, and I thought more and more about food.

This came at a time when I didn't know what to do with my life. The majority of my life prior I had wanted to be a professional writer, as I thoroughly enjoyed the craft and regularly blogged (this was back in Myspace days). I recognized that I didn't want to professionally write once I realized that writing rarely entered my thoughts and that I didn't enjoy it as strongly as I was making myself believe. Once I realized what a dominant role food was taking in my life, I recognized that I wanted to be in the culinary arts for my living, thus bringing to full light the interest that's always been within me implicitly.

However, even after that period I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life concretely. Just become a chef? A chef and restaurant owner? A food corporate leader? For a few years after my identification I was still unsure as to the precise direction I wanted to go, only that I wanted to be in food and needed to start getting into restaurants. So began my restaurant career, where I started as a dish washer and achieved my best job to date, one that was always a constant source of enjoyment.

Recent discoveries and further introspection have further specified my purposes. When I look back, I see now that I was always a kid who valued knowledge. I guess broadly kids either tend to like robots or dinosaurs as they're growing up, and I'd definitely consider myself in the robot category. I loved Mega Man, and was always memorized by the appearance of an invention or robot on television or in a movie (though not those giant ones, and I don't know why). In my earliest years I wanted to develop video games, and while I may have never learned a programming language I do think I implicitly valued it for the technology and intellect involved.

It wasn't until I discovered Ayn Rand that I developed an explicit love for the pursuit of knowledge and more strongly valued intelligence. Anthony Burgess had me quite primed given the philosophical elements of his writings, but it wasn't until Rand that my deepest premises came out. I rapidly changed in this period, contemplating philosophy all the time and more often renting books of an intellectual nature. Years later I came to value knowledge so much that I even began studying on my own time, in school or not.

The key to why I like cooking lies in my refined views about practical epistemology (the field of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge). Lately I've been thinking about why I've been having so much trouble with my studies in the past in regards to not being able to concentrate on certain subject, and I realized that I was taking a duty-bound approach, only studying some subjects (such as grammar) only because I felt I had to, not that I was interested. As such, I was forcing myself to do something that I wasn't deep down interested in, causing me to have much difficulty in concentrating and remembering the material. What truly interests me are subjects relevant to my life . . . relevant to my actual physical pursuits.

In other words, the knowledge I value most is that which helps me master reality more effectively, that helps me master nature in my own realm.

I recognize that there is incalculable value in theoretical knowledge, science in particular, but what I value is applied knowledge (and applied science in particular). I can't just sit around learning all day, making identifications and integrations, without putting it to use in some way; in fact, my intellectual make-up probably wouldn't allow me to learn effectively in such a fashion. I've got to learn and take it out into the world somehow. This is why I liked robots and quirky inventions while growing up: It showed knowledge put to use, the ultimate representation of the results of an active mind.

Tying it back to cooking, this is where Alton Brown comes in: His form of scientific cooking is yet another example of what results when knowledge is applied to reality. I value this particular manifestation not only because of the enjoyable theoretical knowledge behind the cooking processes and the fun physical challenge of constructing a good meal, but also in the physical pleasure it results in at the end of the endeavor: Great tasting food. To me, this is knowledge in its complete cycle: Theoretical knowledge > active cooking as applied science > physically pleasurable end result. You have the learning, application, and reward all in the same field. I love that. Alton Brown's show memorizes me because of the fully applied, beginning to end, epistemology that's present, the science, application, and tasty meal.

My future has become clearer, and it is in gastronomy. I know now what I need to do in order to mentally equip myself for my endeavors, and have began taking the steps. I see myself as retaining all the elements of a businessman, chef, and inventor, as I could never be content just doing some experiments in a lab. Homaro Cantu is my chef of interest at the moment, as he right now represents the epitome of where I'd like to end up.

This is why I love cooking. It's my favorite form of bringing knowledge into physical existence.

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