Yesterday I cooked fried rice. It was probably the best fried rice I’ve cooked ever, and I’ve cooked a few.
I’ve never had any real education where cooking is concerned; when I was growing up in Singapore, my family had a domestic servant (read: maid) who did all the cooking, cleaning and washing. All the way up until I left Singapore for Uni in Sydney, I never had to cook.
Consequently, any cooking I did was very much the way I was brought up; by the book. Even today, my approach to cooking usually goes like this:
- Find a recipe online
- Measure out each of the ingredients in the recipe
- Follow the recipe to the letter
As you can imagine, this didn’t always result in a dish that resembled the recipe, or tasted the way I had imagined it to be. Often things like “until fragrant”, “until cooked through”, or something which didn’t have a precise time or visual measurement associated with it didn’t work too well.
Yesterday was different. I still looked up a receipe, but not only did I have totally different ingredients for the recipe, I didn’t actually measure them out. Instead I just mixed stuff in and tasted as I went along.
Some years back, there was a popular sitcom on Singaporean TV called Under one roof, about a Singaporean family. In one of the episodes, the mother is trying to teach her daughter how to cook. She used phrases like “just put some oil”, or “add a bit of salt”, much to the chagrin of her scientific-method oriented daughter. The daughter then started measuring how much oil acutally corresponded to “some oil” and how much salt was “a bit of salt”, and found incredible consistency between trials attempted by her mother.
I think well-practised cooks get the same measurements and dosages consistently. Good cooks taste as they go and know how to adapt to different states of a dish. Better cooks have a wider range of ingredients to play with when adapting a dish, and the best cooks are consistent through practice, have a wide range of ingredients at their disposal, and efficiently execute quickly. Consqeuently, they are able to handle much more complicated dishes in the comparable amount of time as the average cook.
You can probably see where this is going. I think well-practised software developers produce consistent, familiar code. Good developers iterate quickly and adapt to customer feedback. Better developers have various techniques to use when adapting to change, and the best developers can do this in a much shorter period of time. Consequently, they are able to handle larger, more complicated projects than the average developer.
I got a glimpse of being a good cook yesterday, but my only tools are salt, pepper, soya sauce and oyster sauce. I certainly cannot produce consistently and am some ways away from amassing a reasonable body of knowledge to adapt to different states of a dish. Soya sauce, salt, pepper, oyster sauce, fish sauce and seasame oil are still the best cooking friends I have. But I’m getting there.
Still a long way to go, where software and cooking are concerned, but here’s a picture for posterity.
It also helps if you add a liberal dose of oil 🙂