His idea is for me to show up with some of my recipes and walk him through them, but I think he wants to arrive at the destination without taking the time to get there.
Cooking, like any worthy trip, is about the journey: Detours, wrong turns and unexpected discoveries are what make us understand and appreciate where we wind up.
The same holds true for seasoned cooks and chefs. I’ve written hundreds of recipes for publication and can attest to the fact that what winds up on the printed page is often not what I set out to accomplish. The process of creating them reveals more about cooking than the recipes themselves, but that is something seldom shown to readers.
You’ll get some idea as I explain the recipes accompanying the first installment of this column. A mild winter and a long bout of unseasonal good weather conspired this year to trigger early yearnings for asparagus, English peas and strawberries. But when I hit the market, it was clear that those items weren’t quite ready to cooperate. There were a few straggly specimens, but they were expensive and not very tasty.
Members of the allium family were abundant, however. Plenty of them were on display during a reconnaissance trip to the Super H Mart in Fairfax a few weeks ago, including scallions with fat white ends and bunches of garlic chives — some just the wide, grassy leaves, others reedier stalks with edible flower buds attached to them.
The buds intrigued me: visually appealing, out of the norm and bursting with bold flavor. A chef’s trifecta.
I began to formulate dishes in my mind as I walked around the market’s produce tables looking for inspiration. I went home and jotted down ideas and a grocery list for a return trip. I often buy a variety of raw materials in case I decide to change course. I might buy lemons as well as limes, for example, even if I don’t plan to use them right away.
After several days of experimenting, reworking and testing, plus a few fits and starts, I had written up the three recipes, none of which resembled my initial vague ponderings.
How I got from Point A to Point B speaks to the intangible ingredients never listed, the passion behind the dispassionate language of instruction. They include the heart that makes a dish pulsate; the ability to know which ingredients bring out the best in each other and how to unite and fine-tune them; a palate and frame of reference informed by a well-stocked pantry and an open mind; the intuition that announces the precise moment, say, to remove caramel from the stove so that it dances to the edge of burning but pulls back at the very last second.