Food Waste is a Sin and Other Things to Get Over While Master[ing] the Art of Southern Cooking

Heather says:

Yesterday I had the pleasure of signing books with the Center for Women at the Citadel Alumni House here in Charleston, South Carolina. I was one of sixty local authors in attendance and it was the second time I’ve had the honor of attending the event started by Ms. Jenett Alterman, who does so much for women and entrepreneurs locally.

Remember how I said I’d be giving away a signed copy of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart? Well, I was not only able to get the autograph for Melissa Jones (commenter #42, as selected by random.org), I was able to get a picture for myself. Win!

Since people weren’t exactly beating a path to my table -and I’m not complaining at all. I ducked out for a little while and attended Ms. Dupree’s talk, which I’ve heavily paraphrased below, with her permission.

Nathalie spoke about cooking in Spain after training at London’s Le Cordon Bleu (Wouldn’t that be amazing?) and about her restaurant in rural Georgia -the state, not the country.

But what caught my attention was her commentary on cooking as a craft. (She never described it as such, but I interpreted it that manner.)

Ms. Dupree illustrated her point with a story about a man going out and spending thousands of dollars on a country club membership, more money on a top of the line set of clubs, and fancy balls -tee hee- and noted that he would not invite his entire family out to the very first time he teed off and expect to get a hole in one.

Yet women -and yes we’re generalizing and stereotyping, suck it up for a moment and just listen- will spend ten or twenty dollars on ingredients and be crushed if the results are not the equivalent of a hole in one the very first time they attempt a recipe.

Stop it.

Give yourself time to learn the craft of cooking.

Our country is so very wasteful in so many ways and I’m still paraphrasing from her talk, but I completely agree, except with food. It used to be after the the Great Depression that everything was saved. Now we live in a disposable society, but still try to be members of the Clean Plate Club because there are starving children in [your country / region of choice].

Give yourself permission to fail.

Heck, I’ve said this before, many times in fact. Remember the Fearless Fridays series that I have got to re-start?

Fearless Fridays are a chance for cooks of any skill level to push their boundaries in the kitchen. We all have boundaries, whether it’s a food we don’t care for or a skill we’ve never attempted. Anyone is welcome to join in this carnival by sharing a link to their latest attempt at fearlessness. This series isn’t about perfection, it’s about trying something new and knowing that sometimes we fail.

I’ll say it again, give yourself permission to fail. Not every recipe is written perfectly and it takes practice to learn what flavors you love, what textures make your soul sing, and how to combine the two.

Ms. Dupree pointed out that, in her mind, it’s more wasteful to spend good money on a restaurant meal that doesn’t keep you awake a night, dreaming of the food.

Aspire to master a dish to the point that your descendants lie awake in their beds and think, “If only Grandma were here to make her biscuits just one more time.” “What I would give to have my aunt’s cornbread.”

That’s what I want, maybe the neighbor kid will remember Ms. Heather’s [why can't I remember what it is he likes?]

Don’t attempt new recipes on company.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy, showcase meal to be memorable. Give yourself time to master it, don’t feel badly if you create a disaster that needs to be thrown out. It’s okay. The world won’t end and you aren’t a failure. If it’s a main dish, just suck it up and serve PB&J or grilled cheese instead, it’s not the end of the world.

And if you aren’t Melissa Jones, I highly recommend you buy yourself a copy of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, it deserves a place of honor in your kitchen or on your nightstand, wherever it will be read most often.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Heather, I’m glad you told us about the book signing event at the Citadel ahead of time. I enjoyed it. I loved hearing Ms. Dupree talk; I could listen to her tell stories about food and the South for hours, I suspect. After reading your review of her book before the event, and then meeting her yesterday, we couldn’t come home without a copy. I’m looking forward to spending time delving in and learning.

    It occurs to me that you and Ms. Dupree have a great deal in common. You both have a passion for food, for people, and for education. You’re both Southern women full of charm, but quirky in a wonderfully endearing way. And though you are both some degree or other of famous, you really connect with the people you meet in a genuine one-on-one manner. I am honored to have both of your (autographed!) books in my home.

  2. Thanks for the good advice. I think what stands out to me the most is the part about expecting a masterpiece the first time, and practicing the skills. I have found that with the dishes I’ve taken time to make again and again, they definitely do get better as I change them and get better at executing them.

  3. Ms. Dupree is simply the best! I remember her shows on PBS and her sweet voice saying “now, if your pie crust doesn’t come out right, don’t cry. Just make another one and try again…” It gave me confidence to try, even though I had never cooked before. Thank you for bringing this fabulous book to our attention.

  4. I definitely have a hang-up with potential food waste and potential meal rejection. As a stepping-stone, a technique I’ve tried before is to serve a convenience (freezer-section or deli-counter) version of a meal before trying to offer my own version. Because if I’ve put a lot of effort (on top of the money) into making a meal and it gets rejected, my feelings are hurt. If the convenience-version is rejected, I don’t bother trying my own and I’ve spared myself some hurt feelings.

    Another thing I’m trying to figure out is the puzzle of food waste, given that it make take children several offerings of an unfamiliar dish before they accept it. So what am I supposed to do – keep offering something and throwing it away? Eat the leftovers myself repeatedly? What if I’m doing the supposed right thing and exposing them to foods that I myself don’t enjoy? Now I’m knowingly subjecting myself to stuff I don’t like just in case eventually one of the kids takes to it? I know I’ve veered off into parenting, but these are serious impediments to the range of my cooking repertoire.

  5. Wow! What an interesting topic. As someone who didn’t know how to cook a grilled cheese sandwich who married someone who didn’t know how to make spaghetti, I have definitely come a long way in my cooking skills. I agree on the don’t make the fancy meal for company, but the one that you have worked hard on and perfected. The one that you love to make and put your heart in to. But don’t stop there. Keep learning and keep developing your skills. :D

  6. I won! I won!! Woohoo! I’m so excited! (Unless of course, there was another Melissa Jones who commented (I know of three in my circle of acquaintances)….in which case, she won! she won!! Good for her!)

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