College is mostly a good thing. Higher education teaches us to think critically, to survive without sleep and to talk about postmodernism, literary tropes and networking. Unfortunately, it teaches us nothing about making good food. And I would argue that the skill of preparing good food is vastly more important than that of talking like an esoteric asshole. Most college students’ culinary ventures are limited to microwaving ramen, making sandwiches in the dining hall and scavenging for half-eaten Pop-Tarts on their desks (that last one might just be a me thing). Admittedly, those who live off campus master more complex techniques like stealing food from random events or boiling pasta and pouring sauce.
Surprisingly enough, when we leave college, we will be in charge of feeding ourselves, three times a day (and much more than that if you’re a particularly hungry person). We will have to contend with stoves, pans, ovens and starting the occasional small fire. In the real world there are few events offering free food, and even fewer offering free condoms. For this reason, it’s important to start cooking, and cooking well, as soon as possible. And to buy condoms. That’s important too.
At some point you’ll want to, let’s say, throw a dinner party, so you can chat with friends and give your Yale knowledge a semblance of use. You can’t serve guests that half-eaten Pop-Tart from your desk. Or you could, but then you wouldn’t have friends.
Everyone can cook, just like everyone can sing. Unfortunately, most people are terrible at both. While I don’t have tips for improving your voice, I do have some tips to make your food taste a little less shitty.
- Use salt liberally. One major pitfall of home cooking is not enough salt. This is the primary cause of lack of flavor. Let’s say you make a bland soup, or some noodles with butter or even a basic salad. If you don’t salt it, the dish will reflect your total lack of skill and effort. If you add liberal amounts of salt — really, a lot — I promise you, this will make even the simplest and most unappetizing foods taste better. Once you’ve mastered salting, anything is possible.
- Use ingredients that aren’t rotten. By which I mean, try to use the freshest ingredients at your disposal. The better your ingredients, the less you have to work to make your food taste good. When the ingredients are fresh and flavorful, the rest will follow. A classic example: sliced tomatoes, olive oil, salt and basil. Bam. This salad requires little to no skill.
- Use lots of fat. Fat, evolutionarily, is designed to taste good because we need it to survive. I think I read that somewhere. But even if I didn’t, I’m pretty sure that fat makes everything taste better, so be generous with it. If you’re making a pasta dish, and it tastes uninspired, add a lot of olive oil, or melted butter or cheese. Sometimes home cooks are reluctant to use fat, and then they wonder why restaurant food tastes better.
- Use a cookbook. You can’t trust what’s online these days. It’s too democratic — anyone can post a recipe on the Internet, but how do you know it’s any good? And how do you know that the positive comments under the recipe aren’t just written by family members? I would suggest investing in classic cookbook like “The Joy of Cooking” or Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” Don’t try cooking without a recipe until you’re very confident in your abilities, or unless you’re just heating up last night’s drunken mistake of a sandwich.
Yale’s campus is overflowing with students in suits, trekking to and from interviews at UCS with briefcases, resumes and self-importance. Many students are concerned with finding post-graduation employment, and reasonably so. Yet more students need to take the time to explore cooking, even beyond the realm of watching “Top Chef.” Go to the farmer’s market. Rent out your student kitchen. Put that illegal hot plate in your suite to use. Eat well, and the rest will follow.