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The Power of Learning to Cook

Let’s be clear: You don’t have to cook. There is cultural pressure put on us to spend time in the kitchen as past matriarchs have, and if we don’t then we feel guilt and shame. We are busy, we are often working too much, and the tempting ease of convenience foods is huge because it’s so, well…convenient. For many people, this time commitment to cook seems unreasonable.

In our modern times there is a constant struggle between understanding that we need to eat healthy, fresh, whole foods and not wanting to spend the time making it. We now have multiple services like Freshly, PrestoEats, Hema and UberEats available that entice us to order in, with minimal prep and almost zero thought as to what to put on our tables. Although these options are convenient, we can often still feel that something is lacking in our homes when our kitchens go largely unused. 

We collect cookbooks to stand on kitchen shelves next to succulents in copper pots, but they are seldom opened. Often if we do have a glance for rare dinner inspiration the spine still cracks, the pages fail to be dog-eared and are clean of oil and sauce spackling. Cooking is a skill that needs to be honed, one to be continually practiced. Put a millennial or Gen-Z in the kitchen and for the most part they will be completely lost. It is arguable that cooking has become a lost art in the modern world. We say it’s making a comeback. 

I struggle with understanding how people say they hate to cook. Yes, I grasp busy schedules, that following directions can be tedious, cleaning up is a pain and it can feel silly creating a decadent meal if you are going to be eating alone. However, I think that there is so much more to cooking than providing sustenance for yourself. It is an act of self expression, a chance to be creative, a time to build brain power and to practice being mindful. It is also an opportunity to connect with your friends, family and community in a way that spans generations. Cooking carries an intrinsic romance. 

When I talk to WildFit clients about cooking or baking my Grandma usually enters the conversation. Growing up I spent summers at her house. We were always busy blanching vegetables, portioning meat, and baking English goods; filling the freezer to feed the never ending stream of visitors. One of my most confidence building, happy memories is kneading tea cake dough on her red, marbled countertop as a small child while the Westminster Quarters chimed out on the clock. 

She has told me many times that she doesn’t particularly like cooking, but that she always felt a duty to do it for her family. Even still, on our latest visit her skills and preparation enabled her to, at ninety-four, happily serve up a delicious dinner for eight people in less than an hour, and all but the dinner rolls were WildFit approved. She continues to create so many wonderful memories for others and has passed on her skills to multiple generations. She taught me the power of learning to cook.

In the Western world of incredibly specialized, intellectual jobs, it’s a wonderful reprieve to do something useful with our hands. Quite often there is little time left for hobby crafts, so cooking and baking can fill this space in our lives. By creating something unique and beautiful with each meal made, we can find enjoyment in it and feel proud of our creations. To become a skilled chef takes experience, diligence, knowledge, exploration, and bravery! By embarking on this journey you create a pursuit that can last a lifetime.  

The process of learning to cook takes brain power. You are able to practice your knowledge of science, the arts, and math while using critical thinking, big picture thinking, attention to detail and problem solving. When we first start to read recipes with unfamiliar steps, measurements or processes it’s easy to feel huge resistance in continuing, but if we do and complete the creation, a sense of achievement and confidence tends to follow. 

As your culinary skills grow, you can use cooking to expand your awareness of different cultures. A friend of mine recently shared an authentic chicken stir fry with me that he made with Shaoxing wine and fermented black beans. It was unlike any typical chinese restaurant food I have ever tasted. I in turn shared with him the Pescado con Coco and homemade achiote paste I had learned to make by watching my daughter’s father cook us Dominican food. Each culture has reasons for using specific techniques, certain herbs and spices, and particular presentations. In learning these things you gain a deeper understanding of the culture and its people. Cooking is a language of connection, enabling you to create commonality with nearly anyone on earth. 

If you let go of expectations and focus on the task at hand cooking can be fun! It can require mechanical precision, but it doesn’t need to. It can be done perfectly with the use of your five senses; eyeballing the quantities, feeling the weight of ingredients in your hand, hearing water sizzle in a perfectly heated pan, smelling when aromatic oils in spices have awoken, and of course, tasting as you go. All it takes is dedication and practice. If a meal does not turn out perfectly, what can you learn from the experience? Try not to take flops to heart, it is all a part of the process, like learning any new skillful art. 

Started cooking by repeating a few simple 30 minute recipes. This taught me about ingredient properties, cutting and combining them properly and temperatures. Then I took on more complex recipes that required multiple preparation steps, pots, and times. I repeated these until I could make them without recipes. This taught me about the timing of ingredients and cooking methods. After this I could mix and match recipes I had learned, creating adaptations to make them my own. Finally I continued to expand my palate, introducing new herbs, spices, a greater variety of foods and techniques, always solidifying my use of one before moving to the next. This practice has given me the confidence to seek out inspiration from cooking shows, chef’s menus and magazines, always curious about how to make meals WildFit approved and bring in new interesting ingredients. This skill was not love at first sight, it was built with time.

To learn to cook is to acquire an indispensable skill that allows you to bring people together, experience different cultures, nourish those you love well, and explore the world from your kitchen. Food is a fundamental part of every day, we can make it convenient and we can make it meaningful. And if you are reading this you have made it a priority and we commend you for that! Stay tuned this month for more WildFit cooking tips, tricks and recipes. 

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