Learning to cook new things, drinking good beer, and traveling the world in search of the next delicious bite. That’s what happens around here.
“Victory or death” is the will to succeed regardless of failure or setback. It wasn’t easy for me to learn how to cook. I am, some of my friends and family would say, slightly perfectionist about my culinary practices. This does not mean that I am perfect—it means that I notice every little mistake and criticize myself constantly. On the one hand, I believe you have to be a bit of a perfectionist to learn how to really cook well. On the other hand, it becomes easy to forget how to have fun. It’s all worth it, though, when something comes out just right.
– Julia Child
Oh, there have been disasters in my kitchen, like when my friend, Jared, caught on fire, or when I nearly burned up my microwave (ok, more than once) with a righteously flaming pan of vermouth. And there have been countless little things; an underdone roast, a crappy sauce. Things that got dropped. Things that got burned. Things that were not burned enough. It’s been a process, but I can honestly say that I have learned from each catastrophe.
A few years ago (more than a few, now) I decided to pick up a copy of Kitchen Confidential, and that changed me. I guess I grew up thinking that cooking was for old people who had nothing better to do with their time. I thought cooking was boring and dull. Despite my parents’ skill (which was formidable) and knowledge (which was wide), I paid little attention to it all.
Reading Kitchen Confidential, many years later, my whole attitude changed. Cooking became cool. It was something that the outcasts, misfits and pirates of the world could do and do well. I envied Bourdain and the other misfits from the book. I dreamed of getting tatoos, working the line at a local restaurant. Smoking. Swearing. Making steak frites.
In the end, I didn’t do those things (well, I did make steak frites… and I do swear). Instead, I set a goal. A simple one: relentlessly teach myself how to cook, and how to do it right, no matter what. Not just cooking from recipes, no, I wanted to learn it all; how to sharpen knives, how to make beer, how to filet a fish and de-bone a chicken… anything and everything. And I also told myself to understand that there will be errors, miscalculations, broken sauces, burned pans—and to be able to say “f___ it” and keep trying again, learning from all of it. That’s victory or death.
I came to a place where I started to really enjoy the process of cooking and serving food. I suppose it appeals to my creative side to some extent… after all, it’s easy to get an audience for a good meal. And it’s just fun. Cooking something really great is like discovering treasure. I wanted to share that feeling. If I can do it, anyone can. It’s not actually very difficult to cook well. It’s really only a matter of taking time and making an effort.
Cooking well really is “victory or death,” in a sense. We all agree that it’s important to eat well—after all, food is our body’s fuel. Unlike money, possessions, or other stuff cluttering up our time and our lives, we need quality food in our system. When you really think about it, why wouldn’t you want to control something so important as your own food going into your body? Garbage in, garbage out.
I’m also in love with shooting food photos and traveling—I’ll even plan trips around food experiences. So you’ll see a lot of that here as well.
My wife, Teresa, and some of my close friends also play a big part around here, cooking and brewing and taste testing. Props.
Victory or Death
Jon Van Dalen
email: tzakiel at gmail dot com