Re-telling my stupid mistakes
A while back I had a blog called The Meaning of Eat. I didn’t do much to promote the blog but there was one post that got more attention than anything else I wrote. That post wasn’t a recipe and it wasn’t a rant: it was an honest re-counting of some of the stupidest cooking mistakes I’ve ever made.
Oooh, other people’s mistakes. They're so delicious, aren’t they? They remind us that other people are imperfect, too. That it’s okay to screw up a little bit (or a lot). That maybe are own mistakes aren’t so bad.
Part of successful storytelling – and this goes for brands as well as us human beings – is being able to show those cracks in the veneer. Go ahead, do your song and dance, show off all your glittery goodness, but let us see a bit of your fallible, frail, fucked-up side too.
Because I’ll tell you a secret: that’s the side everybody has, and it’s the side of you everybody wants to see.
So, to delight you once more, here is that original blog post exposing some of my very own kitchen catastrophes.
My Dumbest Cooking Mistakes
I believe we live in a culture where perfectionism is held up as something to aspire to, when really, it’s deadly. It can be toxic to businesses, dreadfully unhealthy for people, and a roadblock to innovation and improvement. It can prevent us from trying new things, or keep us from admitting when something’s not working. And if it’s stopping you from cooking (or anything else for that matter), it’s time to get over it.
This was on my mind today because I tried something at work - something I had recommended and encouraged us to try - and it didn’t really pan out as hoped. We’re choosing to take a different approach. At times like these, I have to remind myself not to let the pesky voice of perfectionism get in the way. We tried, we learned, we move on.
When it comes to food, perfectionism is often treated like a good thing. The most revered chefs, like Thomas Keller, are heralded for their unending quest for perfection. And how many times have you heard someone say that they are inadequate cook because they are “no Martha Stewart”? But while perfection may be essential in a Michelin star restaurant, or look pretty on the pictures of a magazine, it has no place in a home kitchen.
There is a difference between striving for excellence and improvement, and perfectionism.
Perfectionism is fear-based. It is not creative. It is not clever. It is a barrier between you and the small steps, the mistakes, the little trials and the big leaps that pave the way for learning and development - and really great food.
For anyone learning to cook, my biggest advice would be just start doing it. Start trying things. But be prepared for some disappointments. Sometimes you will waste food, time and energy. And that will suck. But you’ll learn from it, and you’ll get better, and those experiences will serve you well. Just like anything in life.
I am proud of the fact that I’ve put some great meals together over the years, that I’ve had the opportunity to feed friends and family, and do some fun things with great ingredients. But I think what I enjoy more is my relationship with food and the cooking process, and that includes disappointments and mistakes.
So, to put my money where my mouth is (no pun intended), here are some of my dumbest cooking mistakes.
1) First time I made creme brûlée. It didn’t set - came out as soup. I learned two things - one, use an oven thermometer because your oven might not be the temperature it says it is, and two, my husband will eat anything I make.
2) I love doing comfort food classics now and then, including a childhood staple - tuna casserole. One time we were eating it and I wondered why I couldn’t get full. It was like there was no protein in it… and there wasn’t. I’d left out the tuna.
3) This was a painful one. My husband was cooking pork chops in a cast iron pan and there was a lot of hot oil. I got too close just as he flipped a chop, and hot oil splattered all over my hand. A little scarr on my hand reminds me that cooking is serious business. You can hurt yourself. Exercise caution.
4) I was hosting a get together and wanted to make things really special. I was cooking a pork roast and it took far, far longer to cook than expected. I mean waaaaay longer - guests biting their nails for something to snack on longer. I was in a little apartment at the time and I think the oven was simply a lot cooler than I knew. Remember what I said about an oven thermometer? Lesson learned - again.
5) This has got to be the dumbest. One year I was determined to make my Grandmother’s amazing whipped shortbread cookies. I made them and they were a disaster - flat, greasy, and falling apart before you could even get them off the tray. Well, try again, I thought - following the recipe carefully, making a couple tweaks like whipping the ingredients less. Still they failed. Determined, I made them a THIRD time, going through a ton of ingredients but dead-set on getting them right. And then it dawned on me. Somehow I had it in my head that a cup of butter (which the recipe called for) equalled an entire POUND of butter. Yeah. Double the butter - an entire pound each time. Where was my head on that one? The obvious lesson is to read the recipe carefully and also make sure it makes logical sense as you’re doing it - if it seems unreasonable, question it.
So there you have it, we all make mistakes, and I’ve certainly made more than these. But it’s worth it, in the end, to screw up, and keep trying.
It’s a more interesting path than the perfect one - and far more delicious.