24 November 2008

On a cookery show

The series is called "Indian Food Made Easy" and it does what it says on the tin. But...

This evening's show (available through the link in the title for just a week after posting) featured a guy who is a keen cook, and likes Bengali cuisine, but who has never cooked it for guests lest he get it wrong. I have no complaints about the show as entertainment, but to suggest that any of it was about learning to cook in an Indian style is mendacious.

Actual cookery in Bengali cuisine appears very straightforward. You would find similar directions on the label of a jar of Tikka Marsala sauce in the supermarket. (Yes, I know about that...) The magic comes from the spices, and their combination and balance--and this programme was merely (and vaguely) prescriptive about them. If you could follow the recipe before, you would be no better off.

The only "insight" was about how Bengali cuisine uses sugar. (I have doubts about that; the interaction of sugar and salt is more subtle than suggested.)

Why am I going on about this marginal programme? I'm not so naive as to believe that the producers are on a mission to improve the audience's cookery skills and eating habits. I'm simply drawing attention to a problem in pedagogy. One bottom line in the practice of an autonomous cook is mastery of heat and timing etc. But another is mastery of flavours, and that involves much basic memory as anything else until (I imagine/speculate...) there is an epiphany, and a few cooks are able to manipulate flavours in their minds and then test them in the outside world...

Where does the rote learning of recipes figure in this?

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