Cooking: Nerdy or Not Nerdy? The Case for the Gastro-Nerd

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I cook a lot. I didn’t used to. My father lives on Saltines, and my mother is English, so all in all we weren’t a big food house. Plus I thought of cooking as something cool people did. Cool is not really my department. Nerds are supposed to live on vending machine food. Which I did for a long time.

But you know, sometimes I watched people who cook cook, and I kind of dug it. It seemed like a basic survival skill — something you’d wanna have in your back pocket for after civilization falls, so you’d be of greater use to local warlords and they’d spare your life. And I figured there’s nothing so cool that I can’t, by doing it, make it uncool. So on impulse I signed up for a cooking class.

It turned out to be a lot nerdier than I expected. Let’s break it down charticle-style:

1. The gear. I don’t really mean cooking gadgets. I find they don’t really work that well. Though I have a dope meat thermometer. I’m mostly talking about knives. There aren’t many good reasons for a non-outdoorsy person to own a really expensive knife. But cooking is one. Plus there’s lore in cooking — a near infinite store of obscure knowledge to acquire. Right now, in my fridge, I have a bottle of verjuice. Think about that.

2. Chemistry. That’s what it basically is — combining various very complex compounds and then transforming them by applying heat. That’s something I can get into. It really helps if you can visualize what’s happening to your food as it gets cooked, on a molecular level. That way you know where to be precise and where you can mess around.

3. It’s good for you. I’m not really a bodily health person. Like not at all. But there is a point to it — as an engineer friend once said to me, if you let your bod get too unhealthy “you’re just hosing your brain.” Unfortunately I’m too lazy, and my pain/boredom threshold is too low, to do a lot of exercising. So that leaves eating properly. It really works. I’m still getting fatter, year over year, but my cholesterol is down, and I hardly ever get sick anymore.

4. Drama. I will almost definitely never be a starship captain. Or really do anything exciting ever. But you know what? When you’re in the final stages of putting a meal together, and you’ve got 4 burners going, and you’re whipping various liquids and solids into various different pots, and shaking a saute pan, and I don’t know, zesting something, and ordering your sous-chef person around, and spouting Aaron Spelling-type dialogue … it’s kinda hot. Not starship-hot, but beggars can’t be etc.

5. You use your nose. Like most nerds I really need things I can do that don’t involve my eyes, which I abuse horribly by pointing them at a computer screen for many hours, in order to produce great journalism such as the very blog entry you are reading at this moment. They are weakening by the day. But cooking? It’s practically eye-free. If there were TV for your nose, it would be cooking.