Since I have discovered my great love for the culinary world, I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of reading everything I can find about cooking and going through hundreds of recipes. After learning some new information on a cooking technique or discovering an interesting recipe, I am always excited to get in the kitchen and apply what I have learned, experiment with recipes, and smile with delight as I dine on a delicious dish that I created. This time in the kitchen inevitability gives me even more new information that I want to try or another way to improve the recipe, which starts this culinary cycle all over again (and again, and again,…). Through all of my reading, cooking, eating, and repeating, I have learned so much about cooking and food, and the more information I gain, the more my enjoyment and interest in the culinary world grows. Of all of the lessons I have attained though, the most important lesson I have gained came to me the other day as I was browsing through recipes for flavored olive oils (there is a pin on my Pinterest Cooking Board). This moment of clarity taught me something that is extremely important to becoming a good cook, but it plays an even more vital role in leading a fulfilling and happy life.
We all have a few things in life that we really love to do. I am not talking about stuff you just “like” to do (i.e. watching a movie, playing Minesweeper, etc.). I mean those activities where time seems to lose all meaning, and you cannot help but smile when you do them. I once heard someone describe these events as the “things that make your heart sing,” and I thought that illustrated it perfectly. I have always known that mathematics, computers, and helping others made my heart belt a song like Pavarotti, but just recently, I discovered that I now have to add cooking to this list. I was just sitting there in my living room, reading recipe after recipe for different olive oil infusion ideas, when I had this revelation. It came to me when I was going to tap the icon for Pinterest on my tablet, but I accidentally tapped my camera icon instead. When the camera popped up and showed my face on the screen, I noticed that I had a great big grin spreading from ear to ear. This was not just a little smirk, but a beaming, Cheshire cat smile that lights up your entire face. I had had no idea I was smiling like a goofy schoolboy until I saw it on the screen (my heart must have been doing a solo), but it made me understand how much I love everything about preparing food. This realization is what gave me the perspective to learn a critical lesson about the act of cooking.
By recognizing how much enjoyment I get from spending time in the kitchen and reading about the culinary arts, I gained one of the most important lessons about cooking. It is one of those teachings that is almost universal, in that it will improve any recipe or dish you can dream up. You could even go so far to say that it is the key ingredient to making any incredible, edible fare (you thought I was going to say egg, didn’t you?). This culinary cornerstone is that you have to make it fun. I know it is simple and obvious, but that is what makes it so powerful. In order to be great in the kitchen, cooking has to be something that is fun, and you love
doing. If you are not enjoying the process of spending hours reading about emulsions and the intricacies of making mayonnaise (my Sunday afternoon), then you will never make a terrific, tasty mayo, because your heart will never really be in it. Unless your heart starts crooning like “Old Blue Eyes” every time you read the words “whisk thoroughly” or “simmer gently,” you are better off just buying a jar of Hellmann’s and spending your time on something you do love doing. Now, I am not saying that you cannot make good food unless you are crazy for cooking like some of us, not at all. However, you will never be able to achieve the same levels of culinary achievement, because you will eventually grow bored and tired of being in the kitchen and decide your recipe is “good enough.” This is natural too, since without the fun, cooking becomes work, and no one likes working (unless your work is fun, but then…*head explodes*). For those of us who love to cook, the recipe will never be “good enough,” or even complete, because you will always be itching to get back into the kitchen to try making it with some new technique or ingredient you read about in the latest “Cook’s Illustrated.” This love for cooking is what will allow you to go beyond “good enough” to create some beautiful works of edible art. It is also what will keep you in front of the stove for hours making some dish, smiling the entire time without a care in the world.
Having a joy for cooking and having fun preparing food is the key ingredient to achieving something great in the kitchen, and the same can be said for life in general. In an earlier post, “Find Your Passion,” I discussed how important it is to choose a profession that you love doing, regardless of the money, because that is what will make you happy in the long run. This concept of keeping things fun is sort of a corollary of that idea. If you make sure that the things you do, be it work or hobbies, are so fun that your heart breaks into song, you will get a lot more enjoyment out of life. Your job will not feel like work, and your hobbies will be like little, mental vacations, where you get to escape from everything going on around you, lose all track of time, and escape into something you truly have a passion for. Not only will you find more happiness through keeping things fun though, but you will also achieve greater success. If you are doing something fun, whether it is at the office or at home, you will not get tired of making minor improvements or modifications because it is “good enough.” You will always want to keep the fun train rolling by trying just one more idea, and this will allow you to accomplish all of the great things you are capable of.
I know that you probably do not think of writing computer code, reading mathematical proofs, or even making infused olive oils as fun, but that is what makes this concept so great and universal. It does not matter what you love doing, just that you love doing it. It does not make a difference if it is geeky or weird, so long as you are having fun. If your heart is singing, that is all that is really important. It is this simple, straightforward nature of this valuable lesson that makes it a key ingredient in the world of cooking as well as life. What are the things in your life that make your heart sing? Think about the things you supposedly like doing, and really ask yourself if you are actually having fun when you do them. Perhaps you have some hobbies or interests that you do not enjoy as much as you think you do, and you could better spend your time on an activity that turns your heart into Wayne Newton. Most importantly, remember that no matter who you are, what you do, or where you live, that your life should be fun. It may not be fun all of the time, as bad things do happen, but for the most part you should enjoy living your life. If you remember this one, key ingredient, you will not only be Bobby Flay in the kitchen (I wish), but you will also have a very happy, successful life.