How did I not see this coming? Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite magazine writers, has a new book out called: The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food. The sub-subtitle is: Rod Dreher, Get Your A** Down To Barnes & Noble and Buy Me Tout de Suite! Which I will, this very day.
Here’s an interview with Gopnik from the Globe & Mail. Excerpts:
You suggest that men who cook are in some ways undermining their wives – that making a sauce is the easiest chore you can do at home. Is it really that simple?
Cooking is the easiest thing to do in the house. But what women are still expected to do, what my wife is still expected to do, is to remember when every sock in the house is about to get a hole in it, or when the kids are due for a dentist’s appointment or a play date – that whole recipe for family life, women still feel obliged to do it more than men. And so men do get a certain kind of cheap credit for being a family man just by cooking. Cooking is the showy side of domesticity.
Boy, is that ever true. I love to cook, but I am hopeless with the rest of it. And I tend to think of myself as quite the fine fellow, helping out with the cooking. If I had to spend one week coordinating all the rest of it around here, my household would collapse quicker than an Italian government.
Throughout the book, you come back a few times to this memory of your mother’s Grand Marnier soufflé. She’s given you her recipe, but you can’t ever get the egg whites right. Is cooking perfectible?
I don’t think cooking is ever perfectible, and I think that’s part of the pleasure of it. I don’t know about you, but I have never set out to make a meal, and said at the end of the night, ‘Boy, that was everything I wanted it to be!’ There’s always something a little wrong, and usually the more ambitious your menu is, the wronger it goes. But then we start over the next day. Cooking is one of those things where you very rarely meet dropouts. People who get the bug for cooking very rarely treat it the way we do a gym membership, for instance, where you go for four years and then you stop. It’s never perfectible, and it’s always frustrating, at least for us amateur cooks who never do it quite right. But we always go on.
Yes, that’s right, but I have to say that for me, cooking is satisfying in a way that writing never is. When I cook something, I know exactly what went wrong with it, and what went right. I almost never re-read anything I’ve written, because the anxiety of never being able to tell if it’s any good is paralyzing to me. I don’t trust my judgment about my own writing, but my own food — well, my taste buds deliver a clear verdict. Like Gopnik, I’m rarely fully satisfied with everything I make at a given meal, but I find it easy to learn from what I did wrong, and from what I did right. Not so with writing. I think that’s why cooking is my only hobby: it’s a form of creative endeavor that is, for me, entirely pleasurable, both in the creating and in the enjoying, and in which, unlike writing, I am released from my own neurosis. If only F. Scott Fitzgerald had climbed onto the life raft of a brisket instead of into a bottle, his life would have gone much better. Of that I’m certain.