Why bother? I get questions like this a lot when I’m cooking. Why bother? What’s the point? Why spend hours toiling in the kitchen — sweating over pots of boiling water, sauces and who knows what else and suffering burns (don’t get me started making candy) — when you could just go to the store and get it in five minutes? Or go to a nice restaurant and have an experienced chef make it for you? Or even turn on the TV and watch someone make it? The answer is simple, but the explanation isn’t. The answer is that it just … tastes better. However, after I make a claim like that, you’re going to ask me why that is. It’s not such a simple explanation, simply because it’s something that comes from experience. More importantly, it’s something that comes from failure. I’ve been fortunate enough to resist any major culinary pitfalls so far in my yearand-a-half-long cooking “journey.” Not that everything I make is exactly five-star, but it works. It may not be pretty, but it tastes good, and that’s really what counts, isn’t it? That’s until I tried to make caramel corn. Bacon caramel corn with a hint of cayenne pepper. I saw the recipe unfold itself from the torn up pages of an old cooking magazine and knew it had to be in my kitchen. The sweet, silkiness of the caramel combined with the smoky, salty all-American goodness of bacon, with just a hint of pepper to make things interesting. It’s one of those recipes you come across and wonder why it hasn’t been written before or why you haven’t tasted it. Or maybe it has existed, off in some dark corner of the world, in the eyes and the hands of a culinary madman, just off the rails enough to try to make it, or better yet, to dare to put it on a menu. That’s where I come in. I see this shining magnificence of a recipe, and think to myself, “Yeah. I can do that. And people will love it.” I was wrong. That little experiment ended with a kitchen filled with burnt popcorn, strings of hardened caramel and bacon grease. My hands ached, my lungs labored from the smoke oozing out from the oven. I loved it. The caramel corn tasted awful, predictably. Some was burnt, some was neglected by the caramel, and even the good parts were obliterated by the taste of cayenne. I was willing to overlook all that, because it was mine. Maybe it’s because it’s yours that you can be willing to overlook the sort of resentment that one directs towards the kitchen that screwed up the meal you paid $20 for, breaking the trust your date had in you when you hyperbolically proclaimed this to be the “best place, like, ever.” Or maybe it’s just that it’s yours, and that’s all. You fought for it, you toiled and struggled, and after all that, you can always taste your work in the recipe. Maybe that’s all that matters. Maybe that’s why I bother.
Published on Dec 17, 2012