Season to Taste

If you’ve been with me for a while – or if you’ve visited – you know we like to throw down the goods in the kitchen and feed the folks we love…

Our family motto is: “The company’s tolerable… and the food is amazing!”

Silly and fun as that quip might be, there’s always been something magical about planning a meal, preparing great food and gathering around the table for a long evening of good company and conversation.

I did my time in professional kitchens where I developed and honed a few useful skills…

And though I own a number of cookbooks – and with the exception of most baking – I’ve never been one to follow a recipe to the letter or to prepare the same dish the same way twice.

I attribute my quirky relationship to recipes to, in equal parts, the following:

  • A general aversion to following rules…

  • A strong desire to experiment…

  • An equally strong desire to put my own mark on any creation of my own hand and, last and certainly not least…

  • Trusting that my body and its senses have what it takes to grab a seed of inspiration, run with it and learn.

And I gotta say, learning to season to taste has been one of those things that continues to teach me how to learn.

There are a number of different pieces at play here, and I want to tease them apart and invite you into my world to make a few points about the body, the senses and learning.

One of the things I most love about cooking is that it has a way of calling all of me into the task at hand…

In the kitchen, I get to think, problem-solve and dream all at the same time.

I get to engage sight, sound, smell, touch and taste along with an awareness of where hands, tools and attention are – in space and in real time.

I get to hold outcome and process – both future outcome and the here-and-now – simultaneously.

And, of course, there is the ever-present risk of failure.

Add a second cook (or more) into the equation and things get interesting fast.

All of that might sound like a lot – and I suppose it is…

And (from my perspective) it’s also wildly, alchemically good fun!

The learning comes in the form of learning to trust, over and over again, that present and anticipated flavors – with heat, color and right timing – will come together.

That trust – as with any other kind of trust – comes with time and repeated experience.

Taste, season, taste, let it rest. Taste, season, taste and let it all settle for a bit and then, with curiosity and an idea of what you’re shooting for – ask which flavors you want to emphasize or bring forward…

A lot of folks don’t allow themselves to deviate from recipes – or, for that matter, to cook at all – because of the risk of messing up.

If you go off-book, you will mess up. It’s simply the nature of beast and, as is in any other arena, if you want to develop your own chops in the kitchen you are indeed going to experience the occasional awful, the “what was I thinking” weird and the merely OK.

Look at it this way: At some point someone had the brilliant notion to wing a perfectly good lobster into boiling water. Someone else decided that a barely approachable, overgrown spiky thistle – an artichoke – was worthy of toasting over a fire and munching on.

In either case, the world’s never been quite the same since…

And look, as long as you don’t burn the house down or poison anyone, all will be well.

Thing is, the more you allow yourself to experiment – the more you taste and try new things – the more flavors and scents you’ll begin to notice and learn to discern from one another…

I’m predicting also that you’ll find yourself wanting to experiment even more and to travel ever farther beyond your current culinary comfort zone.

Do you have to…?

Of course not.

But there is something magical and wildly satisfying about gathering people in a circle (we will, I’m certain, be doing that again…) and seeing them nourished – body and spirit – by the work of your own imagination and hands.

It’s never too late to start.