Notwithstanding some great dishes which are very simple, most of what’s considered ‘tasty’ in the world’s cuisines involves blending different ingredients, tastes and textures in relevant complexity.
Too many, too much of one, one that’s out of place or the wrong blend of ingredients creates irrelevant complexity – often simply nasty. In fact I’d argue that even the simplest ‘great’ foods rely on great ingredients – which are often very complicated to grow, make or rear, requiring optimum care and conditions.
As the scientific chef Heston Blumenthal points out, cooking is applied chemistry. The complexity comes in applying it to that most unpredictable of non-linear systems – human taste.
And tastes develop and mature with experience. Taste doesn’t stand still, it is cultivated and grows. Blame ‘flow’, if the challenge doesn’t move on we become bored.
So, there can be no doubt that the joy in making and eating food lies in creating, enjoying and cultivating a taste for ‘relevant complexity’. It’s the spice of food life. Mmmm.
And what’s great about food is if you focus on it, there’s discovery and pleasure in every mouthful at least three times a day.
Now this is not a cookbook – it’s more of a tasting menu for life. But the big lesson I’ve learned is there is joy to be had at all levels of culinary skill – and like everything in this book the more you learn, the more you practice the better it gets. And making great food doesn’t have to be expensive.
Whatever you like to eat here are four cookbooks every aspiring cook should buy – if I’d had these as a student or a twenty and thirty-something I’d have eaten like a king and been a lot better host:
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall put me on the right road with River Cottage Veg Every Day! Simple enough, tasty, enough ingredients but not too many – and a handy ‘store cupboard essentials’ to stock your cupboards with stuff which keeps and keeps you eating well when you’ve not been shopping all week.
Hugh taught me that the difference between 175°c and 190°c is all the difference in the world. 175 cooks, 190 carbonises and a dab of carbon makes limp veg taste great – and incidentally makes meat fat sizzle whereas 175 just roasts. I few minutes at 190 changes a sloppy stewing Bolognaise into a rich densely flavoured ragu but more than 10 minutes and it starts to burn – and 190 is just too hot for cheese or béchamel. Cookers should have a dial which breaks 150 to 220 into smaller increments with precision settings between 175 and 195 – as it all really happens between those temperatures you can bake, roast, caramelise, crisp or burn.
There are months of relevant complexity to explore with just veg and a fan oven. And that’s before tackling the hob, oils, onions and spices.