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My theory: simple cooking is much harder than you think!
My simple cooking hero is Jamie Oliver.
I remember vividly when I watched Jamie for the first time on TV – it was almost 20 years ago when I stumbled over his cookery show. There was a young man cooking, just cooking. He worked in a rather small kitchen, grabbed meat & fish & vegetables & herbs & spices &… & just cooked. Live. At the end, i. e. about 30 min later, there was a simple, but mouth-watering dish – or even meal – & anybody around just digged in.
Jamie demonstrated that there is a whole world of dishes out there waiting to be prepared for your weekday dinner or some spontaneous get-together w/ family & friends – after work. …that there are dishes easy & fast to prepare… that eventually anybody can cook!
It earned him the nickname “The Naked Chef“.
I rather soon laid hands on his first cookbooks* where I seek advise & ideas until today:
I admit: I was never a fan of cookery shows. All seemed rather faux: well prepared, well set, well presented, well choreographed, ingredients well chosen for their beauty… The dishes were rather difficult to prepare requiring knowhow, patience, time & more time & even much more time… & almost at all times lots of ingredients… special/rare/exotic/expensive ingredients. In short: boring to watch – beyond real life!
…& then there came Jamie followed by a squad of young cooks acting & cooking & baking like him. Suddenly it was possible to cook live & cook everyday food in responsible time frames. (Because all of us have a job, haven’t we?) Coming home & do some cooking for dinner became an alternative to indulging in bread & cheese & cold cuts maybe accompanied by a salad from the deli’s counter or defrosting a pizza or reheating some Chinese take-out or whatever.
For the record:
Of course Jamie O. is a chef, aka a professional, managing his knives & pots & ingredients like a magician. I need some more time to do the same… or at least nearly the same! Jamie O. also never has to clean up his workplace, his oven, his kitchen… All of us have to do this. Nevertheless his approach turns us on!
What is simple cooking?
In my definition it’s relying on a limited number of ingredients, a limited number of spices & herbs… dishes should be scalable easily (from a dish for 2 to a dish for 4 to a dish for 6…). We should be able to rely on products available in our trusted food store or at least at any local shop nearby. Furthermore we should be able to work in a small kitchen equipped w/ basic tools. (Most of us don’t live in spacious housing w/ a spacious kitchen equipped w/ all kitchen gadgets ever invented, or?)
Cooking & baking should be fast & easy – no fussing about strange & exceptional methods, no need of any specialized equipment you’ll need only once a year or so. Concerning all recipes you should be able to simplify the recipe (if necessary!), to exchange ingredients when e. g. some vegetables are not available during the active season of the year or some spices require a search-party combing local shops resp. shops far away.
All this sounds trivial, but it isn’t. You need a lot of basic knowledge & experience & courage to start simple cooking. Jamie O. had his classic training & worked in 1st class restaurants before creating a down-to-earth cookery show. Fortunately you also may learn it…
Why seems it so easy to work w/ a „sophisticated” recipe?
Naturally you can grab a classic cookbook, look for an alluring recipe & follow the recipe line by line. At first you try to buy everything listed in the recipe – spending a lot of time for food shopping. Maybe you’ll have to ransack an army of supermarkets, food store, special stores farmer’s markets, maybe even going online to get everything you need. Maybe you’ll even have to buy some spices which you won’t use again during the next months or so.
Then you start doing every step exactly like the recipe says. Sometimes you’ll encounter methods of preparing food/ingredients you’re not familiar with.. so you have to retry… Or some equipment is lacking… Of course if you have enough money to spend & a brilliantly equipped kitchen it will work & maybe you’ll get a decent or even brilliant meal. But it will take a lot of time & isn’t ready for any spontaneous dinner event end of the week. However, it is easy just to cling to a recipe & not drift away from the track.
In short: If you have enough time & ambition you may start cooking as a professional – crucial are only time & ambition!
For long years I liked to study cookbooks with lots of „sophisticated“ recipes & admired anybody who might… Instead: I always had to simplify & to adapt ingredients… because I hadn’t enough time to do extensive shopping & food preparation (after work)… It needs courage to do so & some feeling for the teamwork of ingredients to decide what’s possible & what’ll become a disaster.
I think Jamie opened a door to simple, but delicious home cooking, to simplify… & that’s his real achievement! He demonstrated how to do it & have the courage… we just need to do it the same way!
Btw: There are lots of high-level restaurants w/ sophisticated menus waiting for you if you decide to reward yourself w/ a sophisticated meal w/ exceptional ingredients – for the sake of time & effort… just leave it to the chefs outside!
Once again my Jamie O. cookbook collection*:
(Of course there are much more books by Jamie Oliver now…, but you cannot own all cookbooks of the world!)