Over the past few months, I've bought some new kitchen equipment, experimented with unfamiliar techniques and ingredients, and even took the unthinkable step (for a confirmed improviser) of following a recipe or two.
Here's why. I'd been cooking more than ever, and getting better at it. But my limitations were growing more and more apparent. All my food shared a similar flavor and personality, and I yearned to go broader.
I remain obsessed by weird pasta visions, but I also want to make real Italian-style pasta. I don't want to fry a lot, but when I do, I want to fry like an Arkansas grandma. I want to produce a much wider spectrum of deliciousness. I want to be free. But, paradoxically, as I've taken steps to broaden my cooking, the constraints haven't budged an inch. Everything still has that same uniform personality. It's creepy. I can't escape it.
Finally, I realized, with both horror and amused familiarity, what's been going on: I've acquired enough skill and experience to have developed - and congealed into - my "style" of cooking. And that's a prison.
This insight is nothing new for me. I can write in a number of different voices; perhaps five or six of them. But that's it. Within each, I find myself to be inescapably consistent (though the substance of what I'm saying, thank god, is less rigidly repetitive). Same with music. I'd surprise you with my versatility as a trombonist, but don't be fooled; I can dip into a number of "bags", but only rarely do I manage to play in a completely fresh way (though individual note choices are more spontaneous). Artists yearn to be free, but I just can't escape me.
It makes sense that at the very moment when I've finally gained confidence as a cook (and a critical mass of friends eagerly solicit dinner invitations), I've noticed the steely bars of my own cage. I've been trapped yet again.
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