October 14, 2010

I ♥ My Cast-Iron Pan

Maybe you have something you're attached to. A baby blanket, or a teddy bear, a pair of jeans, a sweater.  If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, you become attached to certain items. Maybe there's an apron you have to wear, an oven mitt from your grandmother, a vintage ice cream soup or your favorite wooden spoon. Well, I'm attached to two things: my chef's knife and my cast-iron pan. Food that I cook with these things - and I swear this is true - comes out better. It tastes better. You could give me the sharpest, cutting-edge (no pun intended) knife out there and the shiniest, sleekest pan in the world. But I'd rather cook with what I have.

That's because a lot of what cooking and food and the experience of eating comes down to familiarity. Home cooking, or dorm cooking or apartment cooking or where ever you cook is about being familiar and with your food. It's about being being familiar with the surroundings. With the people. It's about bringing back something from your childhood. When it's good, really good, eating takes you back to a certain place or a certain time or a certain person. Food is about engaging yourself with the present - the food, the company, the atmosphere - and linking that to something in your past. Even new foods that we love - that "best thing I've ever put in my mouth" - are probably so delicious because they bring you back somewhere.

Restaurant food can do the same sometimes. Good meals at restaurant bring you back somewhere. Really good restaurant meals simultaneously give you something familiar while pushing your limits. 

So I tend to go back to that knife, and that pan, a lot. Because cooking, at least home cooking, is about familiarity - the friendliness of a dish, the feel of the knife in your hands, the way the food looks on the table in the cast-iron pan. It's about seeing familiar faces, tasting familiar flavors. 

So yeah, I love my cast-iron pan and my chef's knife. I also love the feeling of sitting down to a home cooked meal, familiar as they always are.