Friday, January 29, 2010

Deep Thoughts on "from scratch"

I was recently asked why I didn't make a specific ingredient from scratch. As usual I over-thought the question and this is what I came up with:

In creating and maintaining grill-a-chef, the goal is to encourage and help people to cook. So I vowed to advise without bias or agenda, directing the inquirer towards what is "best" for his or her specific situation.
That is where the art of fielding a cooking question lies; determining the underlying dilemma. The question: "How do I make good scrambled eggs?" will mean something different coming from everyone. One person might have all the right tools and some experience, but wants to refine the process, while another has literally never made scrambled eggs. Obviously, they receive different answers.

When dishing out "how-to" I also try to keep it simple and focus primarily on quality, while building an appreciation for the process of cooking. This appreciation is what keeps people coming back to cooking and it is the process that sets a person's threshold for effort to reward ratios. In other words, is cooking worth their time? So my advice also has to bear this in mind. For example, if my advice includes the use of chicken stock, does it come from a box? a cube? or do you make it yourself? Well it depends on the asker.

I certainly have never set out to only use items I make from scratch, though as a cook I'm always questioning where I draw this line for myself and why. Somehow the thought process keeps bringing me back to the same benchmark ingredient: Ketchup. I have had many versions of ketchup and made a few myself,but ketchup has such a connotation that is hard to overcome. Heinz ketchup to be specific, it's how I grew to love ketchup and will always be the standard, no matter who recreates it.
Ketchup is my baseline, my effort/reward limit, not to mention that making it works out to be considerably more expensive. Ketchup is something I think I've unconsciously resolved to never make again.
While I'm an advocate of making something from scratch a few times to understand the process and ingredients, I can't condone continuing to make it only on principle.

Moving up the ladder you have a lot of ingredients that fall in a gray area, stuff you can relatively easily (and sometimes cheaply) make yourself but it doesn't always make sense. Things like mayonnaise, pickles, chutneys, breads, curry pastes and so on and so forth. These things for me boil down to circumstances and personal preference.

You might not always have time or space to make them, but maybe when the opportunity and ingredients arise, you do. You have to be the judge of that, and decide what is "best" for you.
As I'm sure the answer is different for everyone.
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