Cooking is a Language, by Jonathan Gregory
We might say that cooking is a language, with a vocabulary and grammar. A plenteous, over-flowing tongue, proffering one with many things to say and ways to say them. A language with verb, nouns, and adjectives. A poet’s language, too.
Our verbs are the things we do bake, broil, braise, brown, sauté, boil, deglaze, chop, dice, mince, measure, mix. Some verbs are of the daily, ordinary sort we use over and over. Others are a special vocabulary used more rarely.
Our cooking nouns are the things we make. A few are so basic that they appear again and again as individual elements in many recipes. For example, yeast dough, batter, stock or broth, roux, and sautéed vegetables. Once we learn these nouns, we are enabled to use them in a variety of more interesting recipes such as cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookies, white chili, cream gravy, or broccoli beef.
Cooking language favors its adjectives. These are flavors and textures: aromatics, fats, acids, herbs, and spices. These create the character of the dish. Choice of adjectives make the difference between chili and marinara, between pot roast and beef bourguignon, between biscuits and scones.
Cooking encourages creative use of vocabulary and grammar. The poet-cook is the genius. But even he or she respects basic chemistries of the language that cannot be altered. He will always measure the leavening; she will keep milk from scorching. A cook will always be well compensated for respecting the absolutes.
The first noun we will learn—pizza—includes an introduction to several helpful parts of speech. We’ll learn kneading and baking as our verbs; yeast bread and pizza sauce as nouns; and use adjectives such as olive oil and cheese for the fats, garlic as our aromatic, and basil and oregano as our herb. And then anything else our muses suggest.
© 2012, Jonathan Gregory