Is cooking an art? Is cooking a skill? These are questions that everyone who is interested in food asks from time to time. Have you ever said “here’s a work of art” when you see some plates or some cakes?
Human and Food
The nutrition culture of hunter-gatherer people in the early ages evolved in flavor with the first farmers. Today’s “modern human-Homo sapiens”, which emerged 50-60 thousand years ago, is the leading actor of this evolution’s adventure of thousands of years until today. From that period to the middle ages, the act of eating had the purpose of satiation as a necessity of life. As soon as the human discovered the interaction of fire with food, it started to give importance to the pleasure of eating by cooking.
It was during the Ancient Greek period that cooking was considered as a skill or an art in human life and taken seriously. For example, an anonymous medical writer who lived between the years (427-348 BC) wrote the following lines in a paragraph of a text, comparing a cook’s work to that of the musician;
”From the same notes, different melodies come: From sharp, flat;
they are all notes, but each has a different sound.
From many differences comes the best harmony,
worst from few differences:
If one always composes on the same note, it will not be enjoyable at all.
The most daring, the most diverse formations give the greatest pleasure.” (1)
Although Archestraros, one of the known cooks of ancient Greek history, does not have any written work, it has been found in the records that he is one of the known cooks of his period because of the poems he wrote about food. It is even claimed that it is his work that the word gastronomy was introduced in its current meaning. (2)
When it comes to the Middle Ages (350-1453 AD), the ruling power in the empires searched for a perfect balance in the taste and that brought visual pleasure and the transformation of culinary culture into a kind of art began. Yes, the “culinary art” we are talking about.
The meal table, which was the necessity of the vital needs in the early ages, was replaced by the feast tables where ostentation was presented in an aesthetic way with the beginning of the Middle Ages. Like many people, I think of the post-medieval period as the period in which the “culinary art” evolved both qualitatively and quantitatively.
• “Today, gastronomy and cookery departments have become the most preferred departments in the most important universities of the world”
With the new age, this process has developed even more. In this process, while the cook was constantly renewing itself with the master-apprentice relationship, cookery was no longer just cooking. The presentation also became an important factor. It has peaked in capitalism, which exists especially through consumption; visual pleasure has become as important as palatal pleasure. Today, gastronomy and cookery departments have become the most preferred departments in the most important universities of the world. Thousands of years of nutritional culture and experiences are conveyed by chefs who are experts in their fields to students who are talented in this field, in a way that appeals to people’s senses and emotions. Talent is very important, just as teaching a musical instrument to people is not enough to make them musicians, you cannot make people without talent cooks, you can teach them to cook only to feed themselves.
In his book called “What is Art”; While Tolstoy’s defines art as “art brings together all of the works aimed at touching the senses and emotions of the society”, he defines the artist as people who can express people’s senses and feelings better than they do. So, a cook perform a kind of art for people who cannot do for themselves by preparing plates that will bring both visual pleasure and palate pleasure together.
Today, the ease of crossing the borders, the innovations brought by technology to cooking techniques, the trainings that include many different cultures in universities have made cooking one of the most important professions in the society. The way the cook prepares the food is as important as the taste.