When I was younger, cooking was undoubtedly a science. Considering I wished to be a scientist, this worked out quite nicely. Pots, pans, spoons, cups, these were my metaphorical beakers and cylinders. Recipes were strict lab procedures that had to be met with due diligence and undying precision. Not even a teaspoon off could I be, though the cap of the vanilla container was considered a reputable measuring device and a teaspoon was what doubled as the spoon with which I ate my cereal. Several small mistakes over a few years further convinced me that recipes must be followed to the letter, if not to the atom. For instance, when it slipped my mind to add flour, any flour, to a cake recipe, I was stunned to learn that the liquid result would not rise properly. Perhaps a better example would be when I attempted to make my own chocolate muffins, because the word ‘muffin’ makes it so Mom will let me eat more. Only a few simple substitutions were made, milk for butter, sugar for flour, everything remaining replaced by chocolate syrup, and the result was a total flop, as a muffin, that is. “It makes a perfect drink!” I brightly told my grandmother as I gracefully drank my concoction from a twenty-four cup cupcake tin half as tall as I was. If I remember correctly, her quick reply was a demand that I fetch a wash rag and take a bath.
Baking was also a mysterious magic that consisted of incomprehensible amalgamations that ended with delicious (sometimes) cakes, cookies, and other sweets. Oh . . . and maybe a few main meals and dishes as well. The Great Magicians were Mom and the grandmas, though the grandpas deserve wands for their cauldron-fried hamburgers and steak and Dad for his salamander-and-newt flavored chicken. They were the Merlins and Merlinas who could flip through a spell book and manifest tantalizing meals in minutes. They were the ones that understood that dragon’s blood was too spicy for one potion and that baking soda most definitely can not be substituted for baking powder in another.
A little older, a little more knowledgeable about chemical reactions, a little less restrained, baking morphed again. The cookies, cakes, and sugar towers converted themselves into soups and dishes as I also began to understand the concept of a calorie. However, substitutions became more feasible and often as my expertise (which is an overstatement in the extreme) increased and Google integrated itself more into my life. Still not afraid to taste plain ingredients, knowledge of how the said ingredients interacted was implemented in my mind and utilized. Google is now an unending list of substitutions. If I don’t happen to have one of the ingredients on the list, I just search substitutions for that ingredients and so on until I do. My experiments are just as crazy, though. Crushed potatoes instead of flour? Let’s give it a try. An omelette in a cake dish? Weirder things have happened. Then, my all time favourite, the one that got me placed in the Cooking Hall of Fame (though my mother would say Shame), substituting canned chicken, three-day old pork steak, and snake for fresh chicken in a rough recipe learned by word-of-mouth and hand gestures. Word of the masterpiece spread like fire and now wards off my siblings from trying anything that isn’t clearly a dessert. Even a half-failed (but half-success) cinnamon roll dish was under suspicion.
Nothing’s really changed.
My hypotheses about how ingredients mixed together will react still exist, and they are true hypotheses in the way that they always can be improved. The magic of taste and just how exactly ingredients so awful can taste so wonderful when together still persists. These two ways of approaching cooking endure for me. Science or magic? How about a little of both, working together flawlessly to create food and experiences that will be treasured forever, whether in the form of fat or memory? After countless attempts, successes, and failures in the kitchen, this is the method I prefer, the one that works best to satisfy both creativity and hunger.
Magic and science?
A little open-mindedness and the results could be amazing.