Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, a German architect, once said, “God is in the details” and Maezumi Roshi, a Zen monk said “details are all there are.” so what does that have to do with cooking. Creating in the kitchen is a process; it is like the story in the Hebrew Bible of how God created the earth. God would create something, look at it, and think it was good, but then the next day, God would create something else to go into this creation and so forth and so on. The creation was not a one time instant creation, it was an ongoing process of paying attention to the details, and tweaking it until it had become what was sought after at that moment.
Creating in the kitchen is also about the details. It is about paying attention to what is fresh and what is in season. are you using fresh herbs that are crisp and flavorful or have they been sitting in your refrigerator drawer for two weeks and looking like they need to be sent to the compost pile or trash bin.
The details are about what is seasonal, what fruits, vegetables, or herbs have just sprung from the earth. The details are about how things taste. Every apple for example tastes different. You can go to the public market and see 10 stalls with green apples and they taste different at every stall. A green apple is not the same as all green apples. It is about the mixing of tastes in a dish. Is every element of the desert sweet, so that overall, it is too sweet to eat? Or is it like a symphony in your mouth with a mixture of tastes like sweet, salty, savory. I was looking at a story on Ben and Jerry’s the other day who created this chocolate covered potato chip ice cream with a salty caramel. Watching the story about how it was created, you came to understand that what seems like a flavor that just came into being naturally, took time and tweaking.
The details are about how things look. It is about how they look when you buy them and how they look as you are preparing them. It is also about how things look on the plate. So many have said we eat with our eyes first. Does it look monochromatic and unappetizing or does it look like a work of art, a tapestry of colors. Maybe that is why I love watching Matsuhari Morimoto cook. His dishes tend to look like paintings that make you sit in awe and both want to eat and not want to eat at the same time.
The details are in the texture. It is about how it feels when you are eating. Is the entire plate one texture or is there that mixture of textures. Maybe that is one of the reasons we put a cheese covered slice of French bread on top of onion soup. It is that amazing mixture of textures and tastes.
And I don’t know about you, however, I love foods that are interactive. Maybe that is why I used to like fondues. You got to dip your food and then eat it. It was fun. It brings you back to this place of playing with your food as a child, but for good reasons. I love the notion of dunking my cookies into milk, or my sandwiches into soup. Like on Top Chef Master when Dale Taldes served tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich sticking out of it.
Paying attention to the details for me is also thinking about for whom I am cooking. Zoë is not a gourmet food kind of woman, and the times I have tried to create this gourmet meal, it has not been what she liked. So I pay attention to what she likes and create things using ingredients that I know her palette enjoys. I remember hearing Anne Burrell on Chopped All Stars make a comment about how she was going to put potatoes on her plate because Mark Murphy loves potatoes.
When I am creating, I am mindful that “God is in the details” and the “details are all there are.”