Friday, March 23, 2012

The Abuela Project

I was explaining my process of integrating new recipes into my repertoire to someone at a party the other day and more recently here in my comments section.  It’s not exactly ground-breaking but I thought that I would flesh it out a little here simply because I think it is a good idea (and perhaps I don’t have anything else to write about in my current brain-dead state during Fallas).  When I am looking to try a new classic dish for the first time or if I want to improve upon my existing idea of how that recipe should be prepared I go to YouTube. Nothing new there; everyone uses YouTube for cooking instructions. I search out videos in the original language from where the dish hails even if I don’t speak that language or only speak it a bit (I can get by in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and Greek).  Then I try to find a video made by a very old woman.  I use this video as my starting point.

If I have learned one thing about cooking the food of Valencia it’s that you really should respect tradition. If you want to learn how to make paella you should begin with the most traditional form of this hallowed Valencian dish before you start breaking out into improvisation.  I doubt there is a more rigid standard in all of European cooking that what most people here consider to be a paella.  Most of the other dishes I set out to conquer don’t have recipes as jealously guarded as the one seemingly written in stone for paella but I have learned my lesson and always seek out the most traditional form of a dish.  Learning a new recipe can be like the children’s game of Telephone and the farther you are from the source the more garbled will be your message.

It seems only logical that if you are trying to learn how to make an Italian dish you should look at some recipes prepared by Italians. This isn’t to say that just because a cook shares nationalities with the dish being prepared they will automatically make it better, like there is something in their DNA but I think it’s a good idea to begin at the beginning.  And, of course, a foreigner can cook traditional dishes as well as native born chefs.

Whenever a friend brags about their grandmother’s cooking I tell them that they should be making videos of her staple dishes. The same goes for grandfathers.  Get it on film.

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