It's all too easy to get lost in the utilitarian aspect of cooking. Writer Farah Sheikh reminds us how good design, in addition to utility, can make the entire cooking process infinitely more joyful.
I have many favorite kitchen pieces, most with a unique purpose that only I am privy to. The small glass bowls I’ve had since my first apartment have a subtle ruffled pattern around the edge and fit just the right amount of summer blueberries. A flexible fish spatula that has become intimately connected with my expertly seasoned cast iron - the pair working wonders on the wild salmon filet I favor for dinner. The mug, I’m sure we all have a mug, that holds hot tea, milked coffee, and the perfect amount of ginger chicken stock to ward off an oncoming cold.
I often wonder who designed these objects that have become so dear to me. Did the person who decided the depth of my cereal bowl know my preferred ratio of soggy to crunchy? The designer of my wine glasses, did they know that these objects would bring sophistication to my takeout Thai food as well as the meal I spent all day making with my mother? I spend maybe too much time considering the intention of a piece, how I have either brought this item to its predetermined role or found its purpose in my kitchen to be squarely outside the imagination of its creator.
The unique joy I feel when strolling through a well designed, thoughtfully laid out farmer’s market invigorates me. Inspiration strikes at every stand - I build my meal in my head as I walk. Starting with bountiful fall produce, stopping next for fresh eggs, a hard salty cheese, a golden pot of honey that overwhelms me with the urge to dip my finger into it. I think of the apron I will don to get into the cooking mindset, the Fry Pan I will heat to toast my seeds, the shallow dish that will hold my olive oil drippings, ready for me to drag a chunk of crusty bread through it.
Arriving home, I place my Dutch Oven filled with salted water on the stove, allowing it unwatched time to boil while I distribute my remaining items to their proper place in the kitchen. A rolling boil tells me it's time to add the farro, cooking until just chewy enough to be pleasing to the mouth. Draining the farro, I dress it in glugs of fragrant olive oil, add several handfuls of buttery castelvetrano olives and hunks of the salty parmesan I selected at the market. Golden raisins, toasted walnuts, and a showering of herbs top off my creation, the textures, colors, and smells coaxing a smile on my face.
Bringing my treasures home, storing them with the care and love they deserve, preparing my meals in sustainable beautiful cookware, serving a meal I poured my heart into on the perfect plate that I saved just for this occasion, this is good design’s impact on the joy I derive from cooking. Put me in a well designed kitchen, and I’ll be content for life.
Farah Sheikh is food, natural wine, and fitness enthusiast. She writes a newsletter, sehat, that is centered on holistic health for women of color.