Cooking in Community
Artists are often perceived as isolated or alienated, and this can have a grain of truth. If an artist is crafting a work by himself, and is working in an art form that is unpopular with the general public of his time (lyric poetry in our day, for example), he may indeed be isolated. No one should consider this the norm, however. There are several arts that by their very nature are well-positioned to refute this idea, and cooking is one of the best.
Cooking often involves collaboration in the making of dishes, and as every cook knows, having other people to eat your cooking is much more fulfilling than having only yourself to feed. It is cooking for one that is rightly considered abnormal–a typical recipe will serve two to four people, and recipes advertised as being for one often actually make two servings with one intended to be saved for another meal. Further, a good cook may be popular because he can take what appears to be unexciting ingredients and transform them into something that unexpectedly tastes good. As people receive something that they did not know they wanted until they tasted it, their understanding of what good food can be is expanded. Finally, in a mysterious way, good food helps to create community among those who eat it. It does this perhaps more strongly than any other art form, even if it is difficult to explain exactly why or how.
Although not every aspect of a particular art can be translated to every other art, there are a few lessons here for artists in other fields: although there is satisfaction in simply making something excellent, greater satisfaction is possible through finding ways to make art that others will enjoy. And if the public is not interested in one’s work, finding attractive ways to combine the “ingredients” so that the public can be introduced to, and discover a liking for, something unfamiliar is a path to mutual fulfillment.
A related issue is the cook’s self-understanding. As someone trained in criticism and understanding of several art fields, I have found that I have become increasingly aware of just how many things that we encounter in our daily lives are, in fact, art. Cooking is one art that I have become more aware of as an art, and have found that it changes my self-perception of my cooking. By better understanding what cooking essentially is, I have greater motivation to pursue excellence in this art and present it as a gift to others. And it is presenting it as a gift that seems to make cooking most powerful. With their frequent emphasis on church dinners and picnics, this is something that my own Baptist tradition tends to understand, even if their overall appreciation of the arts has been historically almost nonexistent. As a side note, this may make the art of cooking a good place to begin teaching greater appreciation of the arts.