Tamar Adler had a message for Yalies at a Master’s Tea Thursday: Whatever you have planned for the future is not what you will end up doing.
Adler, recent author of “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace,” spoke to a group of about 30 people about how she began writing about food at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea. Adler, whose book focuses on back-to-the-basics home cuisine, compared cooking to her path in life, explaining there is no set way of doing anything, be it cooking a chicken or deciding your future.
“I’ve felt recently like there is a tyranny of the recipe that I am pitching a battle against,” Adler said, comparing off-script cooking to her life philosophy. “It does not allow for any amount of perceptiveness or intuition. [Recipes] have a tendency to ask you to make all these assumptions and only think about the outcome.”
Adler began writing about food for the Bangkok Post about local street vendors after she graduated college. She said she felt that writing about food wasn’t “serious or helpful enough to the world,” so she came back to the United States to become an editor at Harper’s Magazine in 2001. After several years at different jobs, Adler eventually decided that writing a book could combine her love of writing and her “desire to do good in the world.”
Adler described the path she has taken in her career since college by quoting Antonio Machado’s poem, “Traveller, There Is No Path,” saying she lives by the passage, “Traveller, there is no path / The path is made by walking.” She said she thinks that life, like cooking, is made up of little decisions necessary to achieve something.
“If you have some big goal, then you start wondering if you should turn things down because they’re not what you’ve planned,” Adler said. “It can be very distracting to assume that you want to get somewhere and that anything that is not in a straight visible line with that ultimate goal is a distraction or deterrent.”
Adler said she worries that those in academic environments like Yale can be too singularly focused when comes to careers. Instead, she said, students should focus on their immediate decisions and not worry too much about the future.
“I came to Yale to study literature and ended up stumbling onto the Yale Farm and haven’t left since,” said Zan Romanoff ’09, program coordinator of Yale’s Sustainable Food Project. “I had the experience of having the path I was going to follow and then wandering off of it. It’s really helpful for Yale undergraduates to hear that alternative narrative.”
Adler said she views the learning process of cooking as another path that is made through little decisions. Her advice for someone just learning to cook is to pay complete attention at every moment — her book focuses on what the details of what really goes on in the kitchen, such as the boiling of water, she said.
“As somebody who cooks a lot, I think it was really interesting what she was saying about how to balance constraints and the sensuality and understanding of producing food,” said Lucas Sin ’15, the second-place finisher at the Iron Chef Yale competition.
Since graduating from Haverford College in 1999, Adler has been involved in a wide range of career fields. In addition to editing at Harper’s Magazine from 2001–’04, Adler worked at Prune restaurant in New York City and Farm 255 in Athens, Ga. She moved to California in 2007 to work with the Northern California chapter of nonprofit Slow Food USA, and eventually left the organization in 2009 to become a writer.
Adler said she is currently working on a second book and plans to continue writing for the next few years.