Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Language of Cooking

There are a lot of parallels between learning a language and learning how to cook. Well, I'll go a little farther: as with many things in life, learning to cook, sew, play a musical instrument, paint, sculpt, work with wood or other materials, or mechanics, there is a progression until you reach fluency. In cooking, we have fluency in someone like Scott Wagner, our guest chef today at Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market:
In fluency, you completely understand all of the parts and all of the techniques, and are able to combine them in new and interesting ways; it becomes a creative expression of the individual, having mastered the basics. Today Chef Scotty took small figs and piped them with whipped Spanish blue cheese and topped with fresh spearmint; he also piped them with chocolate mousse; totally killer combo...fluency....

Scotty took fresh squash flowers and piped them, also with the blue cheese. The woman next to me admitted she had never tried them, fried or piped, and I seconded that. But we were in love with the piped flowers; who would have thought? Here they are fresh:
OK this is not pretty, but it smelled great, a marinade of berries and figs and other stuff that went on a filet to grill; outstanding, original, unusual, fresh:

Some people definitely have an aptitude for certain things: learning a language or farming or cooking or music.
Even when you have the aptitude and can "pick it up fast" or be eager to learn, it still takes time.
You first have to learn the basics, master the essentials. How to prep & cut. How to saute. Sentence structure and grammar, in a language, all of the A-B-C's.
Layer after layer, you gain knowledge & experience.
At first, you follow the recipe to the letter; in French you learn to recite the basic phrases, though you may not totally understand them.
You learn the basic techniques of cooking, farming, woodworking; sewing and fingerwork on the piano or violin are no different. Master the techniques.
Once you know the techniques, you can start to layer on more, then more...then more.
In the case of language, you layer on the vocabulary. Once you have basic proficiency, you keep adding more words, eloquence. Fine-tuning. You can expand the range of subjects in your vocabulary.
I read somewhere recently that someone said they "quickly became fluent in French." Rubbish! The food we saw at the market today is a result of many years of know-how and trial and error. You don't become an expert or develop fluency or understand your metier overnight.
It takes time, and even then, it's a constant learning process.
I loved Amy's post on Homestead Revival about her broody hens, and seeing the comments from her followers. You learn a lot from Mother Nature, but she always has a curve ball to throw you; there is always something new to learn!
But as you develop proficiency and move to fluency, you come to the point of your own individual expression; see what Allison from Magnolia creates, with matching paper:
and her succulents, at the base of towering orchid plants:
Ever the student, I loved talking to Chef Scotty today and hearing from the master. The farmers, too, are masters at what they do, and the photos in this post are what they had on display today. See you at the market soon, and keep striving for fluency, in whatever your passion is!


  1. All that lovely food! I'm hungry now! I'm most fascinated by the volume of squash blossoms! How lovely!!! Wish I could find the time to start learning french - my daughter has the Rosetta Stone program, but alas, I've not had time. Someday!

  2. Beautiful pictures! OH, I love the fresh food...

    I am in LOVE with your baskets too! You had commented on my blog sometime last week, and I came back to yours and found that you were the very same Basketeer that I found through Amy (above). Your work is simply gorgeous!

  3. Scotty is adorable and all that food looks so yummy and gorgeous!

  4. I love the little tastes they give you at Farmer's markets... I've got to get out to see you at one of your locations one of these days!
    BTW... did you see I did a dog calendar and used a few of your dog photos!!!

  5. I've always wanted to use figs but have an unexplainable fear of them ~ odd, I know.

    Your photos are beautiful. You're so fortunate to be surrounded by such fresh ingredients each week. I bought squash blossoms for the first time. I'm planning to use them in a frittata this week. I also ventured out of my comfort zone and brought home early harvested beets ~ have no idea what to do with these yet.


  6. Everything looks so good! I missed our market last weekend, I'm looking forward to Saturday.
    Thanks for the frame help, I really appreciate another set of eyes.
    Hope your having a great week.