This essay on “Why Cook Well” was part of a contest to be featured in the introduction to Anthony Bourdain's book Medium Raw.
There are many obvious answers here: It’s an expression of our love, because life is short, because we are passionate about food…and all the other lofty and beautiful reasons why we humans want to do anything well.
But why we cook well? I think the answer is a little more self-centered.
Let me start by saying that I am probably one of the more unlikely Anthony Bourdain fans, and admittedly, maybe one he wouldn’t be too thrilled about having. I don’t have any tattoos, haven’t eaten offal, I’m not a great cook, and perhaps most importantly, I am a despised and untrustworthy vegetarian. The fact that I will occasionally eat fish clearly only heightens my hypocrisy and ignorance.
So I’ll make this short and sweet as I’m sure most of you could care less than less about my thoughts on cooking well, and have either skipped this entirely or are currently exclaiming, “for the love of pork please just bring us Tony”.
The thing is, I’ve discovered through Mr. Bourdain’s work and my own travels that food is a medium where we learn about others. Immediately and with all five senses we are instantly communicating on a very deep level, where words have no currency. Ingesting another’s food connects us to their history, culture, likes, dislikes, triumphs, defeats, home, family, faith. Eating is truly one of the more intimate forms of conversation we engage in, and because we all do it, a common language. Like love, with hopefully, less heartburn.
So convinced am I by these beliefs, I let headcheese pass my lips a couple weeks back while visiting Germany for the first time. And then bratwurst. I consumed enough raw and pickled herring to gag a seal, and enough pretzel/bread/fries and beer to have my raw food friends gasping for green-juice.
You see, I don’t speak German. As another ignorant uni-lingual American, it’s by eating the food that they eat, the food that they cook, the food that they love that I was able in some small way to understand and experience Germany. So, yes–even I would try Icelandic buried shark meat (or at least try and get close to it), crispy pigskin in the Philippines, or Argentinean beef, which my boyfriend proudly claims can be cut with a spoon.
We cook well to communicate well. We cook well to tell others who we are. When we don’t have words, when they fall short, and when we realize they aren’t needed at all.
We cook well to speak. We eat well to listen.