I suppose the most important aspect of a food to me is knowing where it comes from. I like to be able to recognize the ingredients, the method of cooking, and to think about what variations I might have tried if I were to cook it myself. It just isn’t fun anymore unless my meal stimulates my intellect as much as my palate. This puts my favorite dishes in a narrow band of things that are neither too simple to entertain, nor so complex as to overstimulate and deprive me of my enjoyment.
Gone are the halcyon days of my youth, when homogeneously textured salty-savory goo was the only thing I wished to eat, and the golden arches stood high as a beacon of all that I desired gastronomically. I am not sure when exactly the switch occurred. It has been a gradual process, one that I think is still ongoing. Though my tastes have become a bit more discerning, I still prefer, above all, a dish that has a few simple ingredients that go well together.
Many people view cooking as a complicated endeavor, a form of expression that must be continually re-defined and altered. And that’s fine, but it isn’t for me. I like things that are classic and uncomplicated. I will almost always choose a shepherd’s pie over some innovative slurry of beef, crab meat, and brocolli, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream over a fancy meringue. It’s not that I don’t like new or unusual dishes; I do. I just think that the classics are classic for a reason.
If you think about it, every dish we now eat was a new thing at some point. Jonathan Swift memorably wrote, “he was a bold man, who first et an oyster.” And yet some things, like oysters, or pie, have been cooked and eaten the same way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Some things simply work. Those are the dishes I like best, because for all the novelty to be had out there, for all the subtle, mesmerizing combinations of smells, flavors, and textures, for all the culinary experiments I have yet to sample, those simple, staightforward dishes, cooked to perfection, work for me.
And if it ain’t broke, don’t mix it.