Learning Through Stories: How Did You Learn To Cook?
Today begins the second round of the Learning Through Stories project on the Brilliant Blog. (See here and here for stories from the first round, about learning to ride a bike.) A lot of scientific research—and our own experience—demonstrates that we understand and remember material best when it’s presented to us as a narrative, or when we tell our own story about it. So, once a week, I invite you to share your stories of where and when and how you learned something in particular. And I’ll be asking you to do one additional, perhaps challenging thing that is nevertheless the key to the exercise: to draw out a generalizable lesson from your story that could apply to the learning of other things, and could be used by people other than yourself.
The question this week is: “How did you learn to cook?” Please write your answer below, and try to include as many details about when, where, and how it happened, as well as what lesson you can draw from it. I’ll start:
I learned how to cook at the advanced age of 20, when I met a man (now my husband) who owned cookbooks and knew how to make chili and deep-dish pizza and sauteed red peppers. Intrigued, I started reading his cookbooks (the one I remember best is Trattoria, by Patricia Wells), and trying my hand at the recipes. I had a lot of knowledge and skills to master (What were oil-cured olives? How did one use cilantro?) but I was motivated by the desire to impress, and nourish, my new boyfriend. I made one dish, pan-seared chicken with sage and lemon, so often we got sick of it. But master it I did, and to this day I can make it without thinking twice.
One of the most important steps I took as a budding cook was to start reading the magazine Cook’s Illustrated; it’s a fantastic learning tool because it explains why things work and don’t work in the kitchen. Its writers try, and fail, and learn from their failures; sometimes they consult the test kitchen’s in-house scientist for expert opinion. It’s a model for how to improve at anything, and it may be a testament to my own growing skill that I now do all the cooking at our house. My husband has bequeathed his copy of Trattoria to me.
OK, your turn! How did you learn to cook?