The test kitchen is my nightmare. It scares me, what with its imperfect flavors and outcomes, its stumbles and messes, and mistakes laid bare. It’s as if a too-salty oatmeal cookie with over-bloated raisins is some commentary on the type of person I am.
It’s a place where I can’t be perfect, or even good first time around. The place where I’m meant to fail until I get it right. And really, I hate failing. I hate it so much, in fact, that sometimes I don’t even try. In the test kitchen, you have to try. Ugh. And fail. Double ugh.
The test kitchen invites others into my failures; there’s no squirreling them away for a rainy, self-loathing day. Taste testers abound and their one job is to tell me what’s wrong with my cookie or my soup or me. (Okay, maybe not me.) As I brace myself for honest feedback, part of me is hoping for a coddled appraisal, the kind to which I have been conditioned as a millenial. After all, I came of age with participation trophies and all-winners competitions. Grownups even awarded me a ribbon for the piano recital in which I refused to participate. (They really didn’t teach me a lesson with that one.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way (in the kitchen, in life…). I’ve accidentally used rancid oil in a challah recipe and forgot the sugar in the next batch. I’ve klutzily dropped a dozen eggs on the floor, which, as annoying as it sounds (and boy, is it annoying), is less troublesome than mindlessly using rotten eggs whites for meringue and only realizing it once they formed their stiff, glossy peaks.
Setting out to intentionally make mistakes and learn from them? That’s another thing altogether.
But I’ve learned that the kitchen can also be a haven. It demands full attention of all my senses in a way that few things do. How does that batter look, smell, feel, sound, and taste (when I manage to nick a piece) at the precise moment it’s ready? Kneading dough can be as meditative as any yoga chanting, plating carrots as artistic as any sculptural design.
In the kitchen, I can be the Creator, and a proclamation–”Let there be banana bread”–and a bit of alchemy can bring forth deliciousness. Or at least something in the vicinity.
So I guess I’ll resign myself to the realities of the test kitchen and of life: sometimes there’s a bit of good in something that’s gone awry, and if I keep working on it and someday, somehow I’ll find a way to make it right.
And so should you, dear reader. For if you never try, you may not know the joy of a freshly baked cookie or disastrous dish that you’ll laugh about for years.