Thursday, January 26, 2012

Trust Me!

I did not go to cooking school on purpose. But that’s a story I’ll save for another day. When people find out that I have a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, they always ooh and aah and comment about what a great cook I must be. For a long time I’d always answer with an apology and try to explain that I went to Paris to learn to bake bread and make pastries, and that although I did graduate and I do have a diploma, it is for pastry, not for cooking. I’d go on and on trying to explain the difference and the poor soul who was just making conversation would make a mental note to never do that again.

When I came home from Paris, I outfitted my kitchen with every baking utensil and gadget I could afford. My cooking utensils, on the other hand, left much to be desired. Most of them were hand-me-downs from my parents. I salvaged battered pots and plastic utensils with strange melted bits hanging off them on their way to Goodwill. But I was working in a fine restaurant (The Occidental Grill, if you must know), and all my friends were either chefs or friends from college who didn’t cook at all. So most of my meals were eaten at the restaurant during service, at restaurants where my chef friends had friends, or at restaurants convenient to the homes and workplaces of my college friends. Somehow I managed to cook nothing at home other than pancakes for at least a year after graduating from cooking school.

Then one day I got brave, and I invited some friends (not chefs!) to dinner. I found a recipe in a food magazine (probably Bon Appetit) for Country Captain Chicken. I followed the instructions to the letter, and the meal was remarkably good. So good that I could hardly believe I’d made it (even though I spent my days making fancy desserts in a professional kitchen). Everyone loved it and told me what an excellent cook I was and all I could think was that I really wasn’t an excellent cook, I was just really, really good at following directions.

Once I realized just how good I was at following directions, I got really brave. Today I’ll make anything. And rarely the same thing twice. And along the way I really did learn to cook. I learned to trust recipes, but also to trust my instincts, and rely on my experience when something seems to be going wrong. Often, at the end of a long day, when the kids need bathing, and the laundry needs folding, and there’s a deadline looming, I don’t feel all that motivated to get creative. Fortunately there are so many amazing chefs out there making superb food, and sharing the recipes, that all I have to do is follow the directions. Life is short, and I really hate a bad meal, particularly one I’ve spent my own time making.

Which is a long-winded way of saying – you can trust the recipes in Washington Food Artisans. They are delicious, they come from creative and brilliant chefs, and they’ve been tested many times.

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