Last week when I was interviewed by Lady Smut, Kiersten Hallie Krum asked me a bunch of interesting questions, but the one that stuck with me was if I had any funny failure stories to share.
I said that it was rare for me to have a failure any more, but I’m not sure that’s strictly true. I think I’ve changed my definition of what failure is. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of hilarious kitchen disasters. I nearly gassed myself with pureed onion and the wrong kind of curry one time several years ago. I set oatmeal on fire when I was eight years old. I over-salted a batch of eggplant so badly that now I only buy the tiny ones because they’re tender enough already (yes, that was scarring). And it’s true that those kinds of failures have become increasingly rare as I’ve gained experience and confidence.
That said, I do an awful lot of kitchen experimentation. Last week, I made three sauces to go with sea scallops for my review of Jeffe Kennedy’s Ruby. I made the cilantro sauce twice, the chocolate sauce three times and the mango sauce four times. The first step was to be sure the sauces all worked and tasted good on their own. Putting the cilantro yogurt sauce in the fridge overnight with the lime added at the food processor stage resulted in a curdled sauce the next day. The first batch of the chocolate sauce involved balsamic roasted strawberries that smelled terrific and tasted terrible. The mango sauce worked like a charm the very first time, but mellowed too much in the fridge overnight. And when it came time to serve them all together, it got lost in the other two and didn’t pair well so I had to start over with a different base. And yet, I don’t count the first six tries as failures. They were merely steps on the way to the final product. Like revisions on a novel. I even had editors: my husband and a couple of friends who came over for dinner.
The first time it occurred to me that I might have stumbled across a “right way” of doing recipe development was when we saw Chef earlier this week. There’s a scene where Jon Favreau’s character is creating a new menu and there are ingredients and tupperware containers scattered over the kitchen. My husband leaned over to me in the theater and said, “Well, that looks familiar.”
On Tuesday, Delphine Dryden wrote a post at Wonkomance about a story she had started years ago and that lived in the back of a desk drawer until she came back to it recently. I’m not a writer, but I did glean something from her post: it’s important to fail. Pushing myself to cook based on inspiration outside my own head makes me a better cook. Not only would I have not likely succeeded at something as complicated as coming up with my own sauce recipes years ago, I wouldn’t even have attempted it. Until I did it last week, I didn’t even know I could. Until I saw that movie, I didn’t know that I was doing it right, whatever that is.
Which brings me to my point. I’m not a writer. I’m a cook. But as creative people, and especially as female creative people, I’m not sure we give ourselves enough credit. I’ve read a bunch of Delphine Dryden’s books. And let me just say that she knows what she’s doing. And it’s hard for me to type this, much less say this, but I know what I’m doing too. And not only do I know what I’m doing, I’m getting even better.
There are lots of people out there with more experience, better training, better ideas, but your story arc is yours. And you do know what you’re doing.