As I chop away at the head of fresh lettuce beneath me, I walk back to my fridge to collect the rest of my ingredients. Immediately after grabbing feta, tomato, cucumber, and olives, my ears tune in to the blaring sound of my timer, indicating to me that it is time to flip the chicken. I make my way to the stove, and as I stand there, I take a chance to take in the aroma of the garlic- seasoned chicken cutlets, sizzling in the pan. After flipping the cutlets and adding a pinch of salt and pepper, it comes to my attention that the garbanzos in the pan next over are done cooking. I slowly empty them into a large serving bowl, and I make my way back to the counter where I can finish my salad. In what seems like a situation of chaos and complications, I am actually in a state of peace.
For me, cooking is a state of mind. The enjoyment in the act itself has little to do with the end result. Don’t get me wrong; I love food just as much as the next guy, if not more. Yet, there is something almost therapeutic about the actual process of preparing food that I find intrinsically satisfying
Gathering and mixing my ingredients is menial labor that allows for a bit of creative freedom. The physical aspect of it is not challenging, but it requires some sense of coordination and rhythm. The beating of eggs, the stirring of batter, the mincing of ginger: these are all movements that don’t stress the mind, but the simplicity of these tasks do instill a sense of relaxation and mindful tranquility. Yet, there is also flexibility; recipes should not and do not exist as precise rulesets. Instead, they are general guidelines, and that gives me the ability to experiment and integrate my own originality into the dish by means of deviating from the suggested mixture of ingredients. I take a moment to imagine how a meal would taste by adding a specific component. Would this savory piece of salmon benefit from the addition of a sweet honey marinade? The recipe doesn’t call for basil, but do I want to add that herbal essence to these baked potatoes? Each ingredient has its own identity, and with so many of them at my disposal, there is almost a limitless amount of possibilities in what I am able to create. It’s all dependent on what kind of flavor and texture I desire.
And even in those moments where action and thought are not required on your part, you still have to maintain some focus. Your hands may be away from the knife or the oven, but maybe you are paying attention to the timer, the thermometer, the scent of the food, the redness of the meat, etc. It is in those moments of patient concentration where you stand and breathe, unconcerned with whatever is going on outside the kitchen that bring peace of mind. Finally, once the timer is up or your instincts tell you the dish is complete, it is then that your cooking session is finished, and you can bask in your accomplishment.
It is the perfect combination of meditation and multitasking, the best balance of mindfulness and peace. For that reason, I love cooking.