“It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.” — Wendell Berry
When I enjoy someone's cooking I invariably say to them "hey, let's cook together sometime!" I could ask for a recipe and of course that would be fine but there is something far more powerful and enjoyable in being taught by another person. A recipe is a formula but hanging out together in the kitchen is an experience. And there are things that can be learned from watching and doing that just do not fit on a recipe card.
Today's cooks are often autodidacts due, I believe, to the combination of a natural curiosity inherent in being a cook and the enormous selection of resource materials at our fingertips. These days it's easier than ever to teach ourselves how to debone a chicken or make a cassoulet. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Sometimes the only teacher around is that YouTube video or chapter from Larousse Gastronomique.
But anyone who has learned how to cook from another person knows the power and importance of this way of learning. Another human being will challenge us in ways we would never do on our own: to reach further, or in a different direction, or to stay with something when we are ready to give up. To work side-by-side with someone whose experience and talent is, for the moment, beyond our own is a precious opportunity to stretch past our own limits.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever received is to always be teachable. This means fostering a state of mind that is open to change, ready to shift and discover and be available for the lesson at hand. Being an expert, thinking we've know everything there is to know is a trap and it limits us. To be in the mode of learning and discovery is to be in the realms of possibility and freedom.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki
These days I see a lot of teaching and learning and sharing about food in local communities. People are teaching each other how to can tomatoes and make kraut, to butcher a pig and decorate wedding cakes. This encourages me and makes me hopeful about the future. When we're teaching and learning from each other, we are reminded that we need each other. And when we remember that, we begin to cherish and respect each other, together creating communities, and indeed a world, worth living in.
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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in November, 2009. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.
This photo of Alexandra Wisnant and Aya Brackett is from our How To Make Hand-Dipped Chocolates tutorial.