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The Secret Ingredient is Practice

August 26, 2018

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Joy’s post …..


Last week, when I was wrapping up my summer rolls, I thought of a time earlier this year when I got into making burritos. A burrito rolling novice, I searched YouTube for instructional videos that painted a clear picture of the best techniques for making a tight, neat burrito.

It wasn’t really my mind that flashed back to the burritos; it was my hands, the muscle memory formed by folding and turning the tortillas over and over. The summer rolls required the same movements, though the gossamer texture and stickiness of the rice paper added a challenge.

Over the years, the words “You’ll get a feel for it,” have been spoken into my ear by chefs, teachers, and other culinary mentors as I’ve wrestled with sticky dough, recalcitrant pastry, and infuriatingly tiny pasta shapes.

In time, that instruction revealed itself as literal. It refers to your fingers and hands, the sense of touch. Nerve endings, skin, muscle, and bone. And one more thing: Practice.

I’ve gained a surprisingly large amount of cooking wisdom from someone who barely cooks at all. My sister, an accomplished Ashtanga yogi and teacher, knows little about food but she knows a lot about practice. In Ashtanga yoga, the same series of poses is repeated–daily–until it is known not in the students’ mind but memorized in the muscle fibers of her limbs. Only then will the teacher introduce the next level of poses.

I wish home cooking was taught or even talked about in this same way. The breezy language used by food writers creates the false impression that a recipe or technique is “foolproof” if you follow the steps. But most recipes, particularly ones that rely heavily on cooking skills, omit a vital ingredient, practice. The last line of all recipe instructions should read, “Repeat, until you get a feel for this, the end product shows noticeable improvement, and you experience a sense of confidence and mastery.”

New home cooks get so discouraged when they make mistakes or a dish doesn’t meet their expectations. But it isn’t that anyone is a “bad cook” or has “no talent.” It’s only practice. Not knowing what to call it because it’s so rarely described, some people label it “failure.” And they quit cooking.

Back to last week’s summer rolls. I did bring a lot of burrito rolling experience to the project, but practicing with the rice paper was different. I should have told you this last week, but I tore plenty of those wrappers. I scraped out the filling, threw away the rice paper, and began again. I know now what new home cooks are slow to learn: practice is the secret sauce. It isn’t failure; it’s learning.

I leave with you a recipe I hope you’ll make part of your home cooking practice. It’s one I recently wrote about for the Washington Post, and you can find it here. Looking back over this article, I didn’t write about practice directly. But I can see myself thinking about it if I read between the lines.

If you give it a try, share it on social media with the hashtag #eatvoraciously. I would appreciate your help bringing clicks to my work.

Until next time, I hope to see you around the internet!


From → Cooking, FOOD, Recipe

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