My father came over the other day to help me replace a bathroom faucet. It took four hours, two trips to the hardware store, and one trip to a French restaurant for lunch (croque-monsieur, baked eggs with gruyère). When we were done, we turned on the water and exchanged many high-fives. While washing my hands with the sparkling new faucet, I realized that the experience was a lot like cooking.
I've been teaching my daughter to cook, and it's gotten me thinking about why I cook. Iris, age 4, has been working on her stirring and flipping techniques. She's poured a whole bowl of beaten eggs onto the rug and made a very odd-looking pancake. And she loves it.
It bothers me when people say that everyone should learn to cook. Cooking doesn't make you a better person—just look at Marco Pierre White or Gordon Ramsay. Cooking doesn't make you more environmentally conscious or a good parent. For me—and most Serious Eaters, I bet—it's a form of entertainment.
But cooking is an especially powerful form of entertainment because it presents an endless series of problems that are challenging but not too challenging. Home maintenance fulfills the same role for a lot of people. Read David Owen's great book Sheetrock and Shellac and see if he doesn't remind you of Michael Ruhlman. When Owen went on for pages about the pros and cons of different countertop materials, I was riveted, even though I live in a rental apartment and don't expect to ever buy a Corian countertop. (Man, I really want one, though.)
So what I'd like to teach Iris in the kitchen is not that she has to be a good cook in order to be happy, but that when you have a problem like cooking in your life, it's hard to get bored. It could be plumbing, tennis, World of Warcraft, or whatever. If she's lucky enough to make a career out of a hobby like her dad did, awesome. As long as she doesn't end up like Gordon Ramsay.