Column Good food doesn’t have to be perfect, just real.
When it comes to food, what is perfection?
Is it a perfectly formed pie, free of burnt spots because the crust wasn’t rolled out evenly? Is it a plate covered with the ideal ratio of starches to proteins? Is it an apple free from blemishes?
Whatever “perfection” is when it comes to food, in today’s society, we’re obsessed with it.
With headlines like “Can Science Perfect Food?” we’re often on the search for the things that will make our food better. We want to control all of the variables, be exactly sure what we get out. This article in question discusses Japanese chefs and scientists deconstructing traditional cooking methods to find the best way to prepare foods.
As the article states, “Knowing the science behind a dish reinforces the techniques used to create it. And, in the eyes of this group of scientists and chefs, this science can lead to a more perfect plate of food.”
This is true. To make good food you have to know how it all works, and why certain ingredients interact the way they do.
Cooking and baking is in fact a way of controlling food; you add a little of this and a little of that, and in the end, you create something completely different than what you started with. As the cook, you decide what happens in the kitchen. The zucchinis don’t magically turn themselves into zucchini bread, now do they?
But does a plate of food need to be “perfect”?
Because we always want society’s version of perfect, and as such, we search for control, we so often turn to mechanization. A bread machine that knows exactly what heat and what time the loaf of bread needs. A coffee machine that merely takes the push of a button to pull an espresso shot. A stand mixer that miraculously whips ingredients together.
Standardization, however, isn’t necessarily the indicator of a good thing.
It’s common to hear of good bakers insisting that their staff learn how to perfect breads by hand before turning to the help of machines in order to assist them in producing larger quantities. That’s because machines can’t do everything; you have to feel, smell and learn your way to good food, that in itself is the perfection, not what the end product may or may not look like.
Cooking and baking is an art, but if we get caught up in too many of the technicalities, we’ll quickly lose that art in our own kitchens. And if we install too many machines that can do things “perfectly” we’ll lose the knowledge that made us culinary masters in the first place.
This idea of perfection doesn’t just apply to the finished product of our cooking efforts. It also applies to the ingredients themselves. Take a look at the produce section of your local grocery store. See any apples with spots on them? See any misshapen vegetables? Of course not, because they don’t sell as well. In an attempt to cut down on food waste, in France a supermarket chain had to launch an advertising campaign to get people buying “ugly” fruits and vegetables.
Good food isn’t perfect. Dinners aren’t always Instagram-worthy, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less delicious. Fruits aren’t always perfectly symmetrical and perfectly colored, that’s what makes them beautiful. Your picnic sandwiches are rarely (if ever) wrapped in paper and twine and a sprig of rosemary.
When it comes to the kitchen, good food is so often about serendipity. A dish is made delicious thanks to the ingredients you have on hand, not because you followed a recipe like a religion. Sometimes it’s more about the imperfections than the perfections.
We should embrace imperfections. We should embrace ugly foods. Why? Because real food is far from perfect. It’s just food. And it keeps us fueled and happy no matter what it looks like.
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Image: Jamaila Brinkley