Like many of my yuppie peers, I like to cook, and I marry this enjoyment with a historical curiosity: is the way I flip omelets, in my great grandma’s old and heavy skillet, the way that it’s always been done? What is the etymology of julienne, and how has the technique it names evolved? How long have the wealthy in Europe used forks, and when did their use become more generalized? These and other things, I wonder, besides the most efficient way to mince garlic and reduce an onion to minuscule particles.
I hadn’t given much thought to the historical achievement of being able to enjoy the act of cooking itself, though. But Bee Wilson’s book Consider the Fork, which runs through the history and culture of cooking technologies ranging from the alloys used in knife making to kitchen layouts, made me consider that the sheer pleasure of fashioning meals is the result of relative privilege, one of having the opportunity to skillfully manipulate purpose-made tools in a hospitable environment. My kitchen, the equipment I use, and the food I cook, while by no means luxurious, is (when it isn’t as blazingly hot as it has been the last few weeks) a pleasant space to stand in and use your limbs to make tasty things.
The sensuous pleasures of kitchen leisure are fine enough that eating what I produce is only half the motivation; successfully undertaking it in the first place is the other. We feel like this is mainly because it is fulfilling to do something well. And it is, so long as you’re doing it is in a space that is not infested with vermin, not fouled with rank smells from staled and rotting foods, and not choked with smoke from an open fire. It’s a fine thing to cook. In a modern kitchen.
To take pleasure in kitchen leisure, it helps to be historically privileged.