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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making Do: Simple Cooking with John Thorne

Still thinking about making do. Here is something by one of my favorite food writers on the topic. If you haven't read John Thorne, you are in for a treat. All his books are wonderful. This excerpt is from Simple Cooking.

His essay is called Perfect Food and has an epigraph from Alice Waters, who is a force in California cuisine and beyond: I am sad for those who cannot see that a brown-spotted two foot high lettuce, its edges curling and wilted, is ugly and offensive. It is a fundamental fact that no cook, however creative and capable, can produce a dish of a quality higher than that of its raw ingredients.

I must confess that I find Waters insufferable. Even aside from that, I think I would find Thorne's view more compelling.

The cook who must carefully sniff the gamy shank of lamb or pick suspiciously through the pail of bruised berries is drawn to connection by necessity. Their scrutiny is genuine and the repayment is in kind: such stuff tells us things that perfection can never share.

This isn't to say that real cooking requires the spur of dubious materials. What I imagine as the counter to anesthetic perfection is what to the kitchen gardener is a common experience. They glory in what is perfect in their crop, but they feel attached to all that they planted, protected, plucked. These are, after all, their children too.

And the hand that happily sorts these things, gouges away the soft spots and digs out sprouting eyes, that rubs off scabs and flings small salvageable bits into the soup pot, is a hand once again the extension of the tongue. Our appetite should always be larger and more curious than our hunger, turned loose to wander the world's flesh at will. Perfection is as false an economy in cooking as it is in love, since, with carrots and potatoes as with lovers, the perfectly beautiful are all the same; the imperfect, different in their beauty, every one.


Anonymous said...

That last paragraph is beautifully said.

Shelley said...

Just as all the scary warnings I read about bugs and disease nearly put me off gardening for life, the claim that ingredients have to be perfect could put me off learning more about cooking. I agree that Thorne is more likeable than Waters.

Her name rang a bell, though. She shows up in the Wikipedia entry for Mikhail Baryshnikov, about whom I wrote not long ago. Apparently they are old friends (lucky her) having done a TV show together called 'Iconoclasts'. I expect most people who live up to that term are uncomfortable company for 'normal' people.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Terri--I just love his writing.

@Shelley--must check that out. Thanks