A lot of guys read recipes the way they read science fiction. They get to the end and think, "Well, that's never going to happen.”
It shouldn’t be that way. If real men eat quiche, they can serve up soufflé, too.
It was the eminent James Beard who said, “The only thing that will make a soufflé fall is if it knows you're afraid of it.”
Cooking is a primal act. Scientists believe that cooking helped develop the large human brain. The body absorbs significantly more energy from cooked meat, and processes it much more efficiently. This enabled extra energy to be used to develop the brain and cave paintings and music and dance and language.
Cooking is what separates us from the rest of the animals. Cooking also can separate valiant men who can make soufflé from those who are merely testosterone-glutted.
So why do many otherwise manly men fade at the thought of commandeering a kitchen?
I’m not referring to professional chefs, such an overwhelmingly male profession that women have to work doubly hard to prove themselves, as they do in so many other walks of life. I’m talking about regular, run-of-the-mill guys. The ones who consider an electric blender a power tool, who can't tell cumin from cucumber, who really believe that a watched pot won’t boil.
It was my wife who gave me the gift of being comfortable in the kitchen by convincing me of two things:
- Cooking—and especially baking—is a science. All you have to do is follow the instructions.
- Don’t be afraid
Here’s Julia Child: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
There was a ton of trial and error on my part. But eventually things clicked. Guests at my Vieques B&B started taking iPhone pictures of my breakfasts. At Christmas, I turned out a perfectly delicious leg of lamb for my visiting family’s dinner.
It culminated two weeks ago when I invited two friends, who are also big-time foodies, for Sunday brunch.
After the Prosecco mimosas and fruit plate, I served a simple romaine salad dressed with a recipe from The New York Times, a soufflé I made from a recipe my wife had taught me and the cranberry-walnut-orange sweet bread I serve at my Vieques bed-and-breakfast.
They asked for the bread recipe. Enough said.
Maybe I like cooking because it’s like writing. No one enters the world a great writer or a great cook. You learn your craft by practicing it.
Also, no one writes or cooks alone. Even though you may be alone in your writing shack or your kitchen, you are keeping company with the practitioners of your craft who have gone before. As Laurie Colwin, a winner of the James Beard Award for Writing and Literature, wrote:
“A cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
(In the photo are the final B&B guest of last summer, left, and my wife, Jo Anne, with one of my soufflés cooling on the rack)