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The Theoretical Cook

A FOODY IN THE THIRD WORLD

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lecons de choses: Adam Gopnik on Cooking

Of all the lecons de choses I have absorbed in Paris, the most important has come from learning how to cook. - Adam Gopnik

Gopnik's book can be pretty absorbing, especially when he starts writing about cooking (in a language radically different from the usual food talk). For instance, from his piece on Lessons from Things, he says:

'The sublime moment of cooking, though, is really the moment when nature becomes culture, stuff becomes things. It is the moment when the red onions have been chopeed and the bacon has been sliced into lardons and the chestnuts have been peeled, and they are all mijoteing together in the pot, and then - a specific moment - the colors begin to change, and the smells to mottled, bend from raw to cooked. The chestnuts, if you're doing chestnuts, turn a little damp, a little weepy. That's what they do; everything weeps.
I suggest there must be a good evolutionary psychologist's reason for the appeal of this transformation, some smart, smutty thing about color change and female tears, but cooking isn't really like sex: appetite and satiation and appetite again. Sex is ravenous rather than reflective. The passage from stuff to things, the moment when the vegetables weep, is a meditative monent and has no point really, except the purely ephemeral one of making it happen. You cook for yourself, or I do anyway.'

True, true. Then to complete the thought, and say in a much nicer way things that we think of anyway, Gopnik continues -
"Cooking....is our only direct, not entirely debased line with the hermetic life, with Zen sitting, with just doing things without thought."
(But in this sense, isn't cooking pretty much like sex? The mindlessness of it all?)

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