As much fun as it is to romp through cookbooks–although I don’t find it fun, I see the appeal–it’s a lot like reading the Travel sections of magazines and newspapers. You don’t leave home, you don’t employ your imagination, your own experiences don’t find their ways into craft or perception.
It’s better with cooking to pick five or six ingredients you love and learn through daily practice how to coax the best flavors out of them. For one thing, the chefs who successfully use more than four or five ingredients in a dish are rare. If you can get the bok choy or chicken or butter to taste the way you want time after time, that’s an achievement. Along with this, you’ll start to investigate sources of the best whatever-it-is that you’re cooking.
The approach is akin to restaurants that specialize in one dish. In Hanoi, a sidewalk joint where noodles and fried garlic and shredded beef go for $1.50 and that’s all that’s available. Or Pat’s in South Philly: “With whizz,” and you’re good to go.
Not unlike life itself, really. Knowing a few people with deep intimacy and trying to get along with everyone else.