Read, Cook, Eat, Repeat
The art of learning to enjoy cooking
by Sara Blad | 29 April 2021
Photo: Wise Living Magazine.
I have only read twenty-one pages of, and made one recipe from, Nigella Lawson’s Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, recipes, and stories. Is it too soon for me to write about this book? After all, I do have 309 pages to read and more than 150 recipes to cook. But what I have read so far makes me want to read more. It also has instilled a belief that I, an inexperienced cook who often becomes stressed at the mere thought of reading through an entire recipe, can cook my way through this book.
Cook, Eat, Repeat is a ‘delicious and delightful combination’ of recipes and essays about Lawson’s experiences with food, recipes, and cooking. Lawson writes her essays with all five senses in mind, simultaneously making me savor every word yet also race through them to get to the recipes. The book’s title references Lawson’s mantra (cook, eat, repeat), which she describes as ‘an essential liberating truth’ through finding ‘structure, meaning, and an intense aliveness in the rhythms of the kitchen’.
I am not yet familiar with this rhythm. For me, Lawson’s mantra describes the ‘Sisyphean drudgery of cooking’ and the ‘day-in, day-out, never-endingness of it all’. But I no longer want to resent cooking. I want to learn to embody those rhythms, especially as I enter an uncertain phase of my life. My current rhythm—defined by lectures, seminars, and Dutch art—has begun to disintegrate as I prepare my dissertation and try to figure out what to do after I graduate from the Courtauld. My purchase of Cook, Eat, Repeat was an aspirational one.
Nigella Lawson’s spaghetti with chard, chili, and anchovies. Photo: The Happy Foodie.
Familiarity and instinct build one’s comfort level in the kitchen, yet one can only develop instinct through practice—and failure. I began practicing by making Lawson’s spaghetti with chard, chili, and anchovies (the first recipe in the book). I typically find recipe writing not descriptive enough for people who, like me, are unfamiliar with cooking. For example, what in the world does ‘chiffonade’ mean? From experience, having a dictionary on hand does not put the beginner chef at ease. Rather than write chiffonade, Lawson opts for clarity by telling the reader to roll up the chard leaves and then slice them finely. But just because Lawson writes easily understandable recipes does not mean that I will always follow them. Instead of slowly melting the anchovies into olive oil as Lawson directed me, I dumped them into scalding hot oil. The spaghetti was delicious even with the large fried anchovy chunks, but it was even better when I actually melted them on my second try. Repetition brought more patience, and my previous mistake informed my actions in tandem with Lawson’s written instructions.
Cooking, but more specifically developing that instinct from which the rhythm will flow, takes time. I am able to write this reflection so soon after cracking open Cook, Eat, Repeat because, as Lawson writes, cooking ‘can never be an end in itself’. But even once I finish making the recipes and reading every page, I cannot imagine that I will ever be done. As the 'repeat’ in Lawson's mantra indicates, cooking is an ever-evolving process that adjusts with the seasons, emotions, changing flavor palettes, memories, and life developments. I am choosing to write about this book now because I already know that this is a book I will want to return to again and again—reading, cooking, eating, and repeating. And if my confidence in my ability ever wavers (which, frankly, it will), I know I can always fall back on Lawson’s words.
My spaghetti with chard, chili, and anchovies.