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There was a point when I spent most of my time in the kitchen in a state of inspired panic, lurching from one almost-disaster to another. I wondered sometimes about the nonchalant calm that seemed to reign in other people’s kitchens, but I was enjoying myself, for the most part, and it seemed clear that such total zen kitchen mastery was out of the question without a lifetime of practice behind me.

Recently, though, I discovered a brilliant way to short-circuit the process. Here is the secret: learn to do one thing well. Make it a dish or a Skill, as flashy or as humdrum as you like. Bake a mean soufflé! Poach an egg to perfection! The only requirement in this regimen is that, as soon as possible, you do it again. And again. And again. Knead it into your muscle memory until your mastery of the poached egg is out of all proportion to what it by rights should be.

There is something intensely gratifying about making a little study of a process like this. It is not, or at least not mostly, about the poached egg, or about basking in the afterglow of the praise it may inspire, although those can be collateral benefits. It is in the psychic payoff of being able to spend a peaceful hour in a familiar space feeling like you know exactly what you are doing.

In the last few weeks I have turned my attentions to roasting peppers.  I am still a few cycles shy of zen mastery, but I thought I’d share my observations on the process and two tasty dishes that resulted along the way. (more…)

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