Fish take to papillote and dill; potatoes to cheese and sometimes bacon; sausage to a whipped mound of horseradish-studded mustard. That’s just fact.
But when I turn the oven to broil and attempt a garlic-stuffed half-loaf of broiled pugliese, it jars. Fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard—or, if you prefer, anchovies and pineapple on the same pizza.
Food is no less charactered than the alphabet; writers string together sentences knowing not only the art, but the character of words and letters. If two things are à propos, and that is the intent, they are comfortable paper-fellows. But if they should be at odds, then they are at odds with intention. The lazy writer lacks intimacy with words and, much like the lazy cook, never knows how to put the tools of his trade together.
MFK Fisher described it best, if only because she used literary art to paint a picture of the culinary palate: sausage enlivened with fennel and charred by a lopsided grill begets the story of peasant life in German valley villages; melting burrata bubbling at its faded edges on a cracker-thin pizza marks the beginnings of celebration to a Neapolitan family, impoverished by station and class.
In short, I cannot pretend to ignore the character of food because it would upset the vegetables. Roasts would tighten their loins and dryness would come of it. Even wine would sour instead of breathe.
But when I take the brush to the pan, and abandon hope in formula, art is revealed. Was the Mona Lisa color by number? Perhaps I elevate cooking too highly, especially my own. I’m an amateur at best, but I have come, at least, to appreciate the craft. There are those who call cooking a discipline. If they mean it must be lived, day in and day out, they are correct. If they mean it is a ritual with rote repetition and scripted verse, then they have likely done nothing more than bow to the instruction of a recipe.
I mean this and nothing more: Cooking is an art. Food has character. Ingredients boast personality. That is the way of it. Anyone who says differently does not know a lemon from a lime.