Cooking Will Set You Free

You may not currently be aware, but you could be a prisoner in your own life.

In Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain’s latest tome about the world of food, the grand wizard offers a chapter on “virtue” and puts forward the idea that all men and women should learn to cook, even at a basic level starting around the age of puberty. He goes on at length discussing some of the reasons many young people cannot or do not cook and ends with a list that he argues should stand as all the basic cooking skills that people should learn. These range from rudimentary knife skills, to roasting a chicken and making soups.

It is a smart and engaging chapter, but he doesn’t quite go far enough in arguing why we should all know how to cook. Sure he talks about the importance of family meals to social stability, the health aspects of home cooking as well as cost savings; but frankly the answer is much simpler than that. You will never be independent unless you know how to cook.

Let’s repeat that. You will never be independent unless you learn to cook. You may pay your own rent, tie your own shoes and even wipe your own ass. However, if you can’t cook there’s no difference between you and the infant sucking on mom’s teet, except that the kid is probably getting more action than you are.

Of course, depending on your geography the necessity to cook might differ. Living in New York City gives you access to more eating options than Casper Wyoming. It isn’t difficult to go days or months without turning on a stove in the Big Apple. As someone who literally went an entire year between self-cooked meals, trust me. Yet, that isn’t anything to be proud of.

If tripping the life fantastic or living out your own personal version of On the Road isn’t enticing enough to get you to break the seal on learning a few cooking skills, consider the financial ramifications. Let’s assume that you eat lunch and dinner out every single day. We’ll conservatively estimate lunch at $8 (though if you live in a metropolis it’ll be closer to $10 on average) and dinner at $15. Again, this will probably be more in an urban area, unless you plan on embracing a life of fast food and Ramen.

For a single month of food that is $644 (seven days a week, assume four weeks per month). That’s before we even bother to include breakfast, an overpriced latte, going out for a drink, that random “I must have a cupcake” attack or any type of fancy dinner. A couple of months like that and you’ll be counting out how many Cheerios you’re pouring out every morning trying to to save your pennies.

Sure, buying groceries on a weekly basis will involve expenditures, but the opportunities for saving are vast. Buy in bulk and freeze extra food, shop sales and discounts, eat leftovers, stretch ingredients to multiple meals, etc etc. If you rely merely on take-out and the local deli for your meals well the only savings you’ll ever be able to jump on is when SeamlessWeb sends you a 10% off coupon, or the Chinese take-out place is offering free egg rolls with every order.

It all goes back to freedom. Do you want control of your budget or are you fine with giving it over to a food service industry that is battling rising food costs and a nation growing ever more concerned with what goes into their food? (not bad for us, but problematic and expensive for them) No matter how many five-five-five or $10 Sunday bucket deals they keep churning out, not every establishment is able to make value their number one concern.

Finding someone to teach you to cook is never difficult. Most people are extremely generous with teaching because a) having people to help make a meal makes everything easier (usually) and b) cooperative cooking is a lot of fun. The best way to go about it is to just start small and work your way up. Offer to be the guy to keep stirring the sauce (don’t let it stick).  Ask to peel something or learn to chop up various ingredients. Knife skills, even rudimentary ones, will ensure that you are always welcome in someone’s kitchen. Take things in and out of the oven, all the while observe the look and smells of various foods. Commit them to memory.

Watch every cooking show you can and observe how things are done. Watch how they cut onions or grill a steak. Look how they organize themselves before cooking. Hell, take notes if you have to, then try and replicate these actions. Don’t worry too much about recipes or the pomp and circumstance that accompanies each episode. It can take time and be frustrating periodically, but it is well worth it. You’ll feel well rewarded the first time you sit down to a meal you cooked entirely yourself, you’ll swear the food tastes better. Or better yet, the first time you watch others eat something that you prepared for them.

In his chapter Bourdain says that the process of getting people to cook shouldn’t be that difficult since “cooking has already become cool.” He goes on to remark that “…maybe, it is now time to make the idea of not cooking ‘uncool’.” He’s right, cooking is cool, but not in the same way that a new pair of Nikes or being the first kid to get a new car are. Cooking is cool in the same way that Easy Rider is cool. The cinematic love letter to freedom and the open road, that helped define a generation of young adults yearning to define their own lives. Learning to cook gives you another sliver of control over your own fate and there’s nothing cooler than that; except maybe Jack Nicholson.