Why Do You Cook? Food Writer Deborah Madison Answers

Deborah Madison

Deborah Madison › What began as a mild interest in cooking grew to a passion that included stints at ...


In our continuing series, Deborah Madison offers her articulate views on cooking.

Why do I cook? There are many reasons.

For starters, I enjoy it–the whole process–especially when it involves going outdoors to pick an herb or a vegetable. I enjoy the sensuality of cooking, the good smells of food cooking, the visual richness of it all, the pleasure in setting the table and plating what I’ve made, then sharing it with my husband or friends. Neighbors drop by and that’s great–I can always offer them something and we can sit down together.

I cook because I absolutely have to do something with my hands at the end of the day, especially if I haven’t gardened or used my hands in some other way. It’s such a pleasure to leave my office (and my head) and go to the kitchen and enter the physical world of handling food, slicing and dicing, sautéing, roasting—whatever it is that’s happening in the kitchen.

I find I’ve become increasingly more choosy and careful as our foods have changed, including the ever-increasing presence of GMO foods.

I cook because I don’t want the alternative–deli food, take-out, restaurant meals, all of that—unless I know something about the restaurant’s practices and the food they source. It’s not that I don’t like going out for a meal—I do. But I find I’ve become increasingly more choosy and careful as our foods have changed, including the ever-increasing presence of GMO foods. Or the use of lousy oils treated with hexane, or rancid fats, or oils in a fryer that are seldom cleaned, non-organic dairy–the list goes on and on. It’s a total drag, but it’s now the world we live in. It’s not exactly like I’m trying to be a purist, but I do take a rough aim in that direction and at the same time, know it’s fairly impossible. Sometimes I have to just let go and take in all the things I don’t want to eat. If you want to break bread with others, then you have to give up your ideas.

So to the degree I want to be in charge of what I eat, without being a fanatic or rude, that means cooking. It even means growing at least some of my own food, and taking advantage of my farmers market when it’s possible so as to know something about where my food comes from and what it is, exactly. But I don’t view that as a chore. I’d do it in any case.

I also cook because, quite practically speaking, it’s very inconvenient to go to a restaurant since I live a ways out of town. The thought of driving, especially if I already have driven to town, is just too daunting. But I love eating in many restaurants for the inspiration they give me. And I’m lucky to somehow end up in places that one immediately has reason to believe that the confidence we feel isn’t misplaced. You know you share values about food and all that goes with it. But restaurant eating over a period of time is hard on the body—I gain weight, then there all those different menus to absorb for which there’s more bodily confusion. I like the familiarity of my own food, in the end.

And I guess, I just enjoy cooking—taking my place behind the stove, giving my little dog samples of vegetables that he wants to try (and sometimes eats), sipping a glass of wine and talking with my husband or neighbors while I’m getting our dinner together.

What could be better than that?

This is why Deborah Madison cooks. Tell us why you cook.

Photo credit: Christopher Hirscheimer