I made a pretty good simple dinner tonight, and it got me to thinking about how we get good at things.
When I first started getting seriously interested in cooking, maybe 6-7 years ago, I tried to do a lot of things. Sauces, odd ingredients, lots of recipes from cookbooks, etc. It was a blast. Some of the food I made was pretty good, too, especially a couple of the fish dishes and some of the breads. What I realize now, though, is that the approach was all wrong. The foods were very complex and difficult to prepare, lots of steps were needed, and the result was a Big Presentation.
Tonight I made sauteed chicken breasts in a black pepper vinaigrette. There were a total of four ingredients and the whole thing took about 15 minutes, but it was much better than any of the food I made when I was being fancy.
Simplicity has its own well-known virtues. In this case it’s easy to see how good ingredients used sparingly were better, for example. But without having plowed through all those recipes and difficult dishes for a couple of years, I doubt it would have been so good. You can’t just tell people “fry up a couple pieces of chicken in oil with vinegar” and have it work. The sense of how ingredients work together, of what temperatures to use, came from all of those experiences with much more complex dishes.
So, when someone tells you that a complex skill or task is actually very simple, it’s probably true, but it still may be pretty hard to get to the really simple part. Complex, even.