“This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”
– Julia Child
Not only do I adore this quote, I live it. Every. Single. Day. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a chef to cook well. You don’t have to attend culinary school to cook well. Heck, you don’t even have to have grown up in the kitchen alongside your great grandma Agnes to cook well. The ONLY thing you need to do to become proficient in the kitchen and cook well is summed up perfectly in Julia’s quote. You need to be open to learning, you need to take risks and try, you need to learn from your mistakes (and their WILL be mistakes) and you must have fun. It really is that simple. If you’re afraid to fail and you dread being in the kitchen than you’ll never get any better. But if you keep yourself open to new challenges and you learn to enjoy the process of cooking instead of just the destination, you will soar.
I wasn’t born with a burning love and desire for being in the kitchen however, my experiences growing up in a big Italian family definitely helped to foster a love of cooking and baking. I loved the way food brought our family together whether it was to celebrate a holiday or a milestone. No matter the event, somehow everything centered around food in some capacity. My paternal grandmother had this way of always making people feel welcome around her table. She didn’t have a big gourmet kitchen, she had just the basics, but whether two people or twenty showed up at her house she would be in that kitchen whipping up a pot of sauce or some other simple Italian dish for everyone to enjoy. All were welcome at her table morning, noon, or night. She would feed you and love you and make you feel like family.
My grandparents were of the “kids should be seen but not heard” generation so I distinctly remember being at their house with all of the adults gathered around the table drinking, laughing, and talking while all of the kids were off playing together. The adults were able to enjoy their “grown-up” time and we were free to just be kids, carefree and happy. But when dinner was served, we all squished into every available space in their small dining room and kitchen and we ate together. Meals would be eaten slowly and with care, nobody was on a phone or in a rush to get up from the table and it was the food that brought us together. It slowed us down, made us relaxed, and in the process we made memories. Really great memories. I loved those meals. I loved the sounds of constant chatter at the table and everyone enjoying themselves. It was safe and cozy. It was happiness. In looking back at my childhood I realized that so many of my fondest family memories included a good meal where we were all gathered together around the table.
When I was younger, it was also an important tradition to prepare food with my immediate and extended family. On my mom’s side we would always descend upon my grandparents house a few weeks before Christmas to prepare the holiday treats and bake our traditional holiday cookies. We made fudge, homemade chocolates, butter cookies, cake balls, struffoli, and my absolute favorite of all time, Italian pizzelle cookies. Everyone, kids and adults, would be gathered in my grandparents small kitchen and dining room and we would spend the whole weekend baking, laughing, and listening to Christmas music. It was such a wonderful, fun, festive weekend and again, we were gathered around food.
Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, food is the heart of the family. So many of our memories are somehow tied to a good meal, a special food tradition, or cooking alongside our elders. As I got older it became important to me to carry on my family traditions and to learn how to become a really good home cook. I wanted to be able to prepare special meals for my family and put a good dinner on the table for my husband and future children. So after college, when my husband and I moved out on our own, I threw myself into the kitchen and attacked every recipe I tried with gusto. I asked my grandparents, aunts, and my mom for all of the traditional family recipes so I could learn how to make everything from Easter bread to Christmas fudge. I was determined to learn and get better and I’ll be honest, not everything was a success. I failed. I made mistakes. Just take a look at my blog post, Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There, and you’ll see that sometimes I created an absolute disaster. But from the disasters I learned and the more I learned, the better I got. Over time I started to realize that being in the kitchen wasn’t just about the cooking or the baking, instead it became my sanity, my outlet, my passion and some of my best memories too!
When I am in the kitchen I feel so relaxed and calm, I feel at home. I have learned to stop focusing on the finished product and instead, enjoy the process as well. I love the delicate task of sifting flour, or watching the paddle of the mixer cream the butter and sugar together, or melting chocolate into a shiny, smooth ganache. I love watching each step of a recipe come together, piece by piece, until there is a beautiful plate of food in front of me. I love feeding people and seeing the joy on their faces as they taste a delectable bite of food that was made in my kitchen with my own two hands. But most of all, I love the memories that are associated with so much of what I make. There was the time my teeny tiny toddler daughter sat up on the counter mixing brownies for her Daddy’s birthday, or the time my kids, my husband, and my parents gathered around the table to decorate gingerbread houses, or the first time I let my daughter cook us a pasta dinner on the stovetop. All great memories, all centered around food.
The kitchen doesn’t just have to be the place to get a quick meal on the table, it can become a place where memories are made, where you can calm your frayed nerves, and where great meals and treats come together. I know that old meatloaf recipe is easy and you’ve made it countless times with ease but why not break out one of your cookbooks, blow off the dust, and dive into something completely new? Be fearless, remember? Learn a new cooking technique, try out a new herb, get your hands dirty, make a mess and above all, have fun! Embrace the challenge, learn from the mistakes, and recognize that with every new thing you try you’re taking another step towards becoming a better home cook.
Developing yourself into a success in the kitchen is such a wonderful journey. I love looking back on how I use to cook back in the day and then looking at myself now and being able to appreciate just how far I’ve come in the last 20 years. Although I’ve learned so much and gotten so much better I’m also still a constant work in progress. I love to devour every word in my cookbooks and cooking magazines, I read tons of other blogs and websites, and I am always challenging myself to grow on a daily basis. Cooking, baking, and this blog have become my absolute passion in life. Both are at the core of who I am and I love to share my passion with others. If I can help even one person cook better or gain more confidence in the kitchen than I feel like I am a success.
So, the moral of this story is this: JUST GET IN THE KITCHEN AND GET YOUR COOK ON! Don’t look at it as a chore. Don’t dread it like you do going to the dentist. Make it a challenge. Make it interesting. Make it fun. Keep pushing yourself and in time, you will become a pro in your own kitchen. Bon Appétit!