Taste can be complex, and chefs of all people need their taste to be impeccable. Taste can make or break a chef just as shaky hands would break a surgeon. Since it is that season, Girl Scout cookie season, I want to start with a quick Gordon Ramsey fact. A larger then life TV personality and chef, he had the opportunity to be on Jimmy Kimmel. Having tasted Girl Scout cookies, he spat two of them out! You see, well-trained taste picks up on a whole different side of food than what the average person tastes.
When you taste food, and I mean genuinely taste it, you should be able to pick out the individual flavors in the dish. Why shovel food in our mouths for the sake of filling our stomachs. There are thousands of foods out there that are good for nothing. Many foods are processed, full of synthetic flavors, made in factories, with flavors created by chemists in a lab. Food may not be the proper term; simply not worthy of human consumption sounds better. We are in a society where cheap, fast, synthetic food is favored and the only option available for some. But if we want to truly develop our cooking skills, we must focus on what we expose ourselves to.
The Food We Consume
I challenge you to walk over to your fridge and pantry and see what you have. Is it filled with frozen pizza and dried sawdust herbs? Pre-made meals with thousands of calories? This is not cooking; this is not food. To develop our taste, we must venture outside of what we are used to.
Instead of buying pre-made meals, make your food. Herein lies what helps us along our journey. We know what goes into our food. The more you cook and the more flavors you add to a dish, the greater exposure you'll get to an ingredient and be able to pick it out in other dishes.
An easy experiment to practice this: Make homemade apple sauce. It involves apples, cinnamon, and sugar. That's all. Put the ingredients in a crockpot and let it cook away until the apples are easy enough to smash into an apple sauce texture. As soon as you taste it, you will immediately be able to pick out each of the three ingredients. I can't tell you how flavorless and revolting those plastic applesauce cups are. Homemade dishes tend to have more robust and better flavors.
The Restaurants We Visit
And here is where it gets tricky. MANY excellent restaurants buy fresh food and cook it. Then there are many... unfortunately... that purchase frozen food, cook it, and dish it up on a plate. And what do you see on the menu? A high price for frozen food.
We often want to think that restaurant food is the best of the best, with trained chefs cooking for us. The chefs may be trained, but the only option may be to buy frozen under the constraints of profits. A manager and a Chef are often in disagreement in this sense.
The overall point here is what we view as good food. We can't view frozen restaurant food as top of the line if our goal is to expand our taste and taste true flavor. The more of something we have, the more accustomed we are to it. Have frozen food, and that is what we will deem as good. Have fresh food with flavor, then we will excite our pallet.
The Spectrum of Taste.
Everything in our lives tends to be on a spectrum; Taste is no exception. I like to think of it as a one-way road to flavor. We can improve our taste, but to go back is an arduous journey. To eat frozen food constantly would be normal for someone; to have fresh food with flavors from herbs is to move along the spectrum. Eat fresh food often, and this becomes normal, but to go back to frozen is disappointing.
When you truly get the taste of fresh food and get used to it, you'll see how flavorless frozen food is. We can move to better foods, but to move back is to see wisdom. The wisdom that pre-made frozen "food" lacks everything we should love about food.
A quick example here demonstrates just what freezing does to your food. Water, especially natural spring water, has minerals and dissolved solids dispersed. This Is what gives water different flavors. Put this ice in your freezer. As it freezes, you'll notice that tiny ice flakes are atop the ice cube. Perhaps the edge of the cube is cloudy. These are the minerals in the water escaping. The same thing happens to food- flavors escape to the edges of the food and thus, flavor is lost.
Many of the flavors in fresh herbs and spices disappeared when freeze-dried. So those freeze-dried herbs that are supposedly better than dried herbs... the flavor is significantly less and altered. This is often why people think fresh tastes different than dried herbs.
So How Do We Develop Our Taste?
We've just talked about freezing, spectrums, restaurants, and what we put in our mouths. But how do we develop our taste so it is that of a chef? It is straightforward. Eat good, fresh, wholesome food and eat it often. The more you eat and cook yourself, the easier your mouth will be able to recognize flavors. This is a significant part of cooking, finding what flavors go into food and adding them into your recipes to make them even more enjoyable.
Ditch the pre-made meals. I know they're quick, they may even be cheap, but life is too short to eat mindlessly. Eat fresh food made with your own hands, and taste the difference. We eat three times a day; that's three times we can be happier in our daily lives. The minute we start enjoying food, the healthier we can be, and the more joy we can have in creating food.
"The Flying Chef"