Learning How to Taste

We have forgotten how to taste.

Learning How to Taste
Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

Last month I shared about the 2-week bootcamp I attended at a culinary school in Vancouver on the principles of plant-based cooking. Each day, we would learn to cook a range of new dishes, which we then plated and ate during mealtime breaks. The students in this course were eager learners in every respect, and we all worked with alacrity to make each dish delicious and beautiful, but when it came time to eat what we had created, so many students would mindlessly eat their hard-earned culinary creations while scrolling on their phone. I did this a few times myself until I realized what I was doing: I was attending a cooking school to learn how to cook, only to completely miss the opportunity to savor and learn.

This revelation occurred to me one day after I had mustered the courage to approach one of my instructors and offer a confession of the highest culinary sacrilege: that I have a poor sense of taste. He dismissed my secret as little more than being out of practice, instead choosing to ask me me how quickly I eat (quickly) and if I often eat while doing other things (often) and if I have ever slowed my tasting enough to notice the small notes of rosemary in a large stew or the ephemeral tang of citrus in a mole sauce (rarely).

What is the point of cooking if we regard the entire endeavor as nothing more than the utilitarian act of nutrient transport into our bodies? If our food is a means to an end, it is not worth the trouble to constantly tend to a pot of risotto, stirring and testing and nursing it until it reaches its pinnacle of flavor and thickness. This extends beyond the kitchen: we are not paying attention. We are disembodied eaters and mindless consumers in a world blooming with flavor.