Cooking Diaries: “Failure is part of the Art”

Picture credits: Bon Appétit

Back in December, I went through a rough patch where I was feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The weekend prior to my final exams was spent in bed moping and sopping around, and watching hours and hours of Claire from the Bon Appétit test kitchen. Actually, I also watched other videos created by Bon Appétit, but mainly Claire. Her cooking-induced suffering cheered me up and comforted me, and the way she would struggle through recreating snack-foods and other abominations while making them gourmet gave me hope: I too would be able to conquer my darkest demons and end up delivering quality content. Or in reality semi-intelligent answers to impossible questions on social research methodology.

So, cooking. If you are one of my OG readers (which I assume is no-one besides my own alter-ego), you will remember me mentioning something about a dumpling story somewhere in one of my first articles over 2 years ago. In reality, that story is quite boring. I just tried to make dumplings from scratch following an online video published by a company I do not support anymore. I am going to tell you the story regardless.

As someone who never follows recipes and always wings measurements and cooking methods because she refuses[1] to invest in the correct tools, some technical things went wrong. I was making the dough myself, and this dough ended up being too wet. I am pretty sure I added half a kilo of flour to reach a point where I was kind of close to the dough consistency I needed. I broke a nail during the kneading process, which was not a fun time. I also used the wine bottle I was drinking from as a rolling pin, and sifted the flour through a cheese grater, a tool that I have used for this same purpose on multiple occasions[2]. It took me 2 hours to make the dough, portion the dough, and mix up the filling. It took me 2 more hours to fill the dumplings and fold them.

Now, it takes an actual chef years of practice and training to master the dough consistency, thickness, and folding technique in order to create the perfect dumpling. Foolish me thought she would be able to just do it after watching this one video about five times. I failed. My dough, as you just read, took ages to form, was not rolled out properly, and was far from being folded properly. The final dumplings looked, to cite the greatest author out there, “as if nature had suffered from toothache when creating [them]”[3]. My teeth were fine. As for taste, cooking the first batch was a complete failure. They all fell apart. The cooking got better, though. I was even crazy enough to attempt to make another batch a couple months later, but after that one I decided being a dumpling master would never be my forte.

You yourself probably have some cooking stories as well. Maybe you failed while trying to experiment with cooking during these past few weeks. In the next section, several brave souls are anonymously baring their cooking failures. 

What might be my favorite story is the one username Trillenial told me about making falafel. He and a friend apparently found a very simple GIF-recipe of falafel and decided to use that instead of a written-out recipe. They had also decided to go get all the ingredients for the falafel without making a list, forcing them to watch and rewatch the 30-second GIF multiple times while at the store in an attempt to find out what they needed. As you can probably predict, they also only used this GIF during the actual cooking process, which, obviously, slowed everything down significantly. In addition, they had to use a nutri-bullet to blend the chickpeas, which also took some time to do. Username Trillenial and friend ended up spending a solid 4 hours making these falafels, which is, considering their 30 second video, a complete scam times 480.

Nobody else suffered because of my little dumpling experiment, which is something that username smoked rice cannot say. While on exchange in Australia, smoked rice had one of her housemates insist on cooking themselves, only to end up serving black burnt rice and raw chicken. Needless to say, smoked rice did not finish their meal.

Incognitoswede apparently also struggles with dough, writing the following:

“I once tried to make naans from a very simple recipe. I only needed four ingredients: yoghurt, self-rising flour, oil, and garlic. I only had to mix ingredients one and two and ingredients three and four together. Once the yoghurt and flour were properly mixed, I’d roll them out and make some little naans, then put the garlic oil on top, and fry them for two minutes on each side. Needless to say, it didn’t go that smoothly. The yoghurt-flour stuck to my hands like coronavirus to the average Swedish person who won’t keep their distance in the supermarket. I felt lucky none of my house mates walked into the kitchen to see me struggle with something that should have taken me a few minutes max. Embarrassing.”

Username broek lin reminded me of a baking failure that happened not too long ago. broek lin, not my biological mother, and I were making box brownies and for the sake of spicing it up a little, we added in some nice chunks of chocolate. This latter decision proved fatal, as we ended up burning our brownies in my new oven. Completely inedible brick brownies. The sad thing about this is that we were baking them to celebrate broek lin’s birthday. Not the right day to fail.

From username Mindy we read the following story:

“Ever thought about what it be like cooking a space cake sober? Yeah, keep smoking that blunt. 420, 2020 – and five kids who unoriginally wanted to get stoned. The difference? They wanted to do it extra earthly, no milk no butter no eggs (yes, vegan) – which is exactly where the cooking catastrophe began. After shortening the cana butter process from 3 hours to 45 minutes, and throwing every non-essential ingredient behind a simple chocolate cake (and I precise simple) into one big tray into the oven it went. A recipe which indicated 35 minutes strictly, at risk of overcooking it and not getting that “moelleux experience” painfully challenged our patience when an hour later the result was strictly fondue.  Still sober and long past 16:20 on 420 (sobbing), our intuition brought us to turning that fondue into one big pancake, needless to say that was no better and ended up being a case of candy crush saga without the fun. (Straight up sugar, burnt and tasteless). Ashamed, into the freezer our fondue pancake crème brûlée went – hoping that one more round on the wheel of matter and consistency saved those poor 7 grams. 20h on 420, five kids shoving space cakes into their mouths, and no – they weren’t homemade. S/o boerejonges.”

Our last story comes from username cringelord, who has fucked up cooking a couple times, too, and she was more than happy to share these instances with me. At least I think she was, will find out later. This user recalls undercooking risotto by adding in the boiling water after oil and stock powder, causing the grain to stay uncooked and the fire alarm to go off because of the water/oil contact. Duh. As you can assume, she did not eat risotto that night. Username cringelord also recalls fucking up making pancakes. She believes she did not prepare the batter properly, which resulted in sticky, burnt, and holed pancakes. To cite her: big fail. Last and probably least: username cringelord also managed to undercook fish sticks.

So, does cooking ever get better? Of course not. If there is one thing that Claire taught me through all of her experiments is that failure is part of the art. Not everything you think will work will actually end up working, which, if you really think about it, could also be perceived as a life lesson or sumn’. Claire, the beloved pastry chef, has had trouble tempering chocolate to the extent of tempering chocolate becoming a meme, remade batters and fillings on camera multiple times, and does not hide her mental breakdowns when her engineered molds turn out to be unpractical. She embodies challenge and struggle, but also grace. Claire does not give up. There is a valid reason as to why she has a cult following, and it is not solely her cooking talent.

A lot of cooking videos seem very straight-forward, when in reality they are not at all. That is why I prefer Bon Appétit and have stopped watching that other company that I still refuse to call by its name, no matter how much Timothee Chalalalala content they throw my way. Give me real cooking, real-ish visualizations of the process and the failures involved, teach me the correct techniques and the relevance and benefits of sharp knives and ‘cleaning-on-the-go’ and allicin. I prefer robust but edited aesthetics of actual people over clean-cut Wes Anderson-symmetrical one-minute videos that only show hands and will fool me into thinking I am the dumpling master. Or that making your own gnocchi is easy[4].

Only recently, Bon Appétit test kitchen’s wonder child Sohla El-Waylly showed us a recipe for making lamb and scallion dumplings. The beauty of this video is that every single step of the cooking process is shown, including the small mishaps. I am complimenting this, again, because the original video I had to work with was edited in such a way that I was missing out on key visuals and information. What Sohla shows us, and what I commend Bon Appétit for every single time, is how organic their cooking videos are, making it actually possible for commoners to try these recipes out themselves. Not going to lie, Sohla has convinced me to have another go at making dumplings soon.

So, where does that bring me and my cooking? I try to keep things as simple as possible. I like chopping vegetables, so I try to incorporate that in every meal I prepare. Chopping vegetables is not necessarily that difficult, so I am not afraid to take that challenge on. Is there a metaphor in there? Most likely, yes. Chopping vegetables also distracts me, which is nice when I feel stuck on something or need to stop thinking for a little while. I did most of my experimental cooking in my first year of living alone. Branching out now means inventing a soup, or trying out an easy dinner recipe found on at least 23 Pinterest boards that does not have more than 12 ingredients, or watching more videos from Bon Appétit to feast my eyes on what my hands will never actually create, or trying out some vegan baking, which, I must say, is also quite an adventure. I have not failed at that just yet, but my two experiments were not necessarily to write home to about either.  

The overall message here is: do not stop trying. Whether it is cooking, trying to battle boredom, or attempting to climb out a deep and dark hole filled with tears and regret. Things do get better. One of my mistakes when making dumplings the first was that I did not allow my dough to rest, which did not give the gluten a chance to develop. Patience is key in everything. Take that as a cheesy life lesson. But also remember: failure is part of the art.  

[1] Read: is a poor student 

[2] Read: whenever I baked my phenomenal chocolate cake

[3] From: ‘An Affair of Honor’ (Vladimir Nabokov, duh)

[4] Read: I was also fooled into making my own gnocchi from scratch by this same company


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