I've been thinking about cooking role models a lot these days. A role model is a different thing than an idol, or a hero. An idol may have a desirable, glamorous life that we eye appreciatively but never actually emulate. A hero may blaze the way forward, teaching and encouraging. But a role model is a person who offers, often unwittingly, an accessible pattern of living and cooking. A role model shows us the good life as we want to live it. Who's that person for you, when comes to cooking and the kitchen? I may cast an appreciative eye at Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson and their effortlessly beautiful (and well-styled) cooking and food endeavors. They certainly inspire me, in sweet (and often expensive) ways, but their books and cooking fall somewhere in between eye candy and special occasion inspiration.
I admire Martha Stewart for building a far-flung empire while still giving every impression of knowing exactly what she's talking about when it comes to Swiss buttercream and buckets of peonies, and I of course offer Julia Child all my respect for coming to her career as a mature woman having already found success elsewhere. Her integrity, humor, and sheer dedication are inspirations to every one of us who wants to master the craft of learning and teaching people about food.
But these aren't people who necessarily kick me out of my chair to skip the take-out and actually put three ingredients together after a long day of, you know, writing about food and talking about food and strategizing what pieces of food media the internet would like to have on a plate today.
Two different people come to mind, when I think of role models. The first is Laurie Colwin, the writer whose essays were among my first inspirations to really care about cooking. I think that I have a similar relationship to her writing as many of her other fans: She feels real, accessible, yet bracing. Her writing shows that yes, you can use your leftovers or make soup out of almost nothing, but it can be interesting instead of dreary. Food can be simple — it should be about comfort and nourishment. If I have a sisterly voice in my head, half-scolding me to just cook something and get on with it, it's Colwin's.
The other role model that comes to mind (and I'm sorry if this sounds a bit sentimental, but it's really, really true) is our readers — a composite sort of person, I suppose! I think about the What's Cooking threads I put up every Friday afternoon, and how dozens of you answer back with things like "I also might try to make some soup and freeze it for lunches this week." (Margi83301) Or, "I'm making the easiest dinner possible: grilled cheese sandwiches, canned tomato soup (jazzed up with sherry and a pinch of curry), and --- wait for it --- sweet potato oven fries." (Elsa Macbebekin)
This makes me think about simplicity, and ditching the tyranny of the need to be original. Just get cooking, stay simple, heat up the pan, and cook the soup. That's what I need from a role model — the encouragement to just keep going and feed myself and my household every day.
What about you? Who is your role model? Who do you look to for daily inspiration in cooking?
Related: Cooking Inspiration: Where Do You Find Your Recipes?
(Images: Nancy Crampton via LibraryThing; Leela Cyd Ross: Kitchen Tour: Adrian and Gregg's Pacific Northwest Kitchen)