Ferrett and I both cook, and we’re both serviceably mediocre at it. I don’t mean that as either self-denigration or false modesty. We can both put a meal on the table that others will appreciate and enjoy, but we are not MasterChef quality by a long stretch. There’s nothing wrong with being a serviceably mediocre cook: those of us lucky enough to have mothers who attained that level of ability were often the subject of great jealousy for those kids whose moms were terrible cooks.
And there are lots of terrible cooks out there. My paternal grandmother, lovely woman that she was, was a nightmare in the kitchen. My mother would threaten us with having to eat at Gramma’s if we didn’t behave. I remember actually bursting into tears more than once when I realized that we were staying at Gramma’s for dinner. Here’s how bad she was: the family were farmers, and when the itinerant workers came through for harvest season, they would bring their own lunches rather than eat the free meal provided from Gramma’s kitchen.
So I am aware of how much better a cook I am than that. But I’m also aware that compared to some of our local friends my skills are still rudimentary, and their skills don’t even begin to comprehend the skills of an actual sous chef. It’s a large scale, and one on which I would like to move up. But I don’t currently have the time or attention to devote to lots of kitchen practice, so my improvement is piecemeal at best. As is Ferrett’s, his time being even more occupied than mine.
One of the things we’ve both noticed his how different our cooking styles are. Ferrett cooks like a classical pianist. Sight reading, he can pick his way through a piece tolerably well on the first try, improving with each replaying. In the kitchen, Ferrett follows recipes carefully, scanning through cookbooks, writing detailed shopping lists, reviewing the recipe before starting to cook, and producing very tasty results. But he really needs that sheet music, that recipe, in front of him.
Whereas I tend to cook like jazz. I’m familiar with the tune, and can drop a sweet little riff into it and come up with something out of nothing. Most of my time, my approach to the cooking is “let’s see what’s in the fridge that I can throw together into a meal.” I keep the basics handy, grab the leftover bits of something else, and it comes together into something pretty edible most of the time.
Neither of these approaches is superior, and they both have their drawbacks. Ferrett makes some tasty, interesting food when he has planned for it, but if he doesn’t have a preplanned meal shopped for, he’s pretty lost in the kitchen. I can look in the fridge and see that we have an apple, a carrot, some anchovies and a pound of leftover chicken and think up a dish that will pull it all together, but left to my own devices I tend to buy the same basics over and over and we end up with meals that are kind of indistinguishable from each other.
But the really cool thing? These two cooking styles blend into an amazing synthesis. If Ferrett buys ingredients for a dish, there are often leftovers of those ingredients. Or sometimes he buys stuff to cook and then for some reason loses interest in cooking that dish. The combination of those two facts means that when I open the fridge to figure out something freeform, there are lots more choices available and I am encouraged to get more creative.
I suspect that as we go along, our personal styles will remain strong. He will always be the one looking for more unusual recipes and I will always be the one buying spontaneously and making it up as I go along. But I’m also certain that the two of us will continue to complement each other, our contrasting styles giving depth to each others dishes.
Hey, baby, let’s make some beautiful music together. And then eat it for dinner.