Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Albatross of Me

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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