An expression of absolute admiration and appreciation.
There is nothing so wonderful as to know a real cook. It is having entree to the finest restaurant in the world and the right to enter and nibble at will. Better. You visit casually near dinner time and something appears which they consider humble but which makes one consider saying grace. Or you are invited ceremoniously to an event or a celebration or to Friday or Sunday supper or a dinner party on Saturday night, and you arrive, champagne in hand, to enjoy a meal which cannot be bought at any price. Food made by one who knows how to cook cooking for friends. No concessions to penurious owners nor intractable vendors. No nod in the direction of economy nor in the equally distasteful direction of high-priced flamboyance. The finest ingredients taken moments earlier from a dazzling garden, or purchased carefully from a myriad of stores, each providing only one aspect of the meal. Wine from the wine shop, bread from the bakery, vegetables not found in the yard chosen at the farmers market.
Real cooks don’t always come home with what they went out for. Maybe a bunch of vine-ripened tomatoes or some especially slim and green asparagus at the market inspired them to change the menu. Real cooks write lots of checks and carry cash.
All the non-perishable ingredients, the things you and I and even the managers of very good restaurants buy in the condiment aisle of the grocery store, are found in strange and lovely bottles; herbed and spiced oils and vinegars, fruits and vegetables relished and pickled and preserved at some earlier date, maybe one afternoon while you were drinking coffee or wine or water at the table, gossiping or discussing all manner of things philosophic and politic and romantic and not really noticing your friend’s constant movement around the kitchen, cutting and stirring and pouring and capping and otherwise setting things aside.
Oddly, it is not real cooks who insist that the finest ingredients are necessary to produce a delicious something. No need to worry over making your own unless you want to. Real cooks know that as wonderful as it is to have and use fine ingredients, it is more important to feed hungry people hanging around the living room. Real cooks know that it is a very bad idea to ruin a romantic interlude with a too-fussy midnight snack, and yet know it is sometimes critical to have a midnight snack. Real cooks like making grilled sandwiches at two am. Real cooks take stale bread and aging onions and make you happy. Real cooks love leftovers.
It is rather the amateur cook who has a little, very dangerous knowledge and wields it cruelly who makes the novice or non-cook feel small for making the very same thing a real cook would have been praised for. “What, you have no raspberry vinegar!” the amateur cook will exclaim, as though you had been found lacking in the milk of human kindness.
Real cooks don’t expect their friends who cook to have a Cuisinart DLC anymore than real photographers expect friends to have Hasselblads. Real cooks don’t expect regular people to be real cooks. Real cooks would like to be invited to dinner at your house more often. Sometimes they want to be the one who brings the wine.
Meanwhile, I apologize for suggesting that there is anything for me to say about cooking. I didn’t mean imply that. Feeding people is not cooking. Courting people through food doesn’t mean you must cook. It may mean sharing an invitation to dinner. Or pulling together something edible. Or knowing one restaurant from another. It might even mean letting people figure out how to feed themselves.