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Are you a perfectionist in the kitchen?

Just last week I stopped by to visit a friend who was fretting because the chocolate cake she was making was not turning out very well.  She had watched this cake being made during a Martha Stewart cooking segment on TV and thought it would be a “good thing” to serve to her family members, who happen to be coming over for dinner later that evening.  Unfortunately, her’s did not look remotely like Martha’s.


Checking out the picture of the cake she had printed from web, Martha’s looked wonderfully proportioned, with  a quarter inch of chocolate frosting evenly distributed between the layers as well as being handily swirled around the outside of the cake.  It was cake perfection.  In stark contrast, my friend’s cake was not quite round, tilting dangerously to one side, with the chocolate icing looking… well… like another kind of brown blob.  And every time she tried to fix it, it just got worse and worse.  The situation quickly degraded to her alternating between self-deprecating rants and cursing like a longshoreman.


Cake aside, the real problem was that my friend, with no real baking experience, actually thought she could pull off a perfect cake on the first try.  In what universe is this even possible?


Do cooking shows promote these impossible standards that no one can keep up with?  And do people not realize that there is a complete disconnect with what goes on in cooking shows and what we actually do in real life? 


For example, for Martha’s cake to have come into existence, there would be a “team” of people making sure that everything went just right.  People hired to develop the recipe, source the ingredients, prepare and measure everything out accurately, precook the cake in various stages (including the awesome final product) so that, by the miracle of television, everything is finished in the 8 minute segment.  Not to mention the “team” of people who work on Martha herself, to give her just the right breezy, confident, yet domesticated look.  And finally all the set designers, lighting and camera people, and the multiple takes before you get to see anything on TV. 


Remember… Martha (and other cooking show hosts), PRESENT the work of a LOT of people.


Don’t get me wrong, I still love cooking shows.  Whether they are instructional or purely escapist, I love the whole vibe I get from watching cooking shows.  But, you have to remember what they are, and what they are not.  They are great for inspiring you to try something new (just be realistic with your results).  They are great for putting a new spin on an old way of doing things.  They are great to get you in the mood to meal plan or organize a party.  But, they are not real life.  They are specifically produced in such a way to highlight the rosy side of home cooking.


The best shows do occasionally reveal the cracks in the veneer.  One of the more highly-regarded flubs I can think of is Julia Child flipping a large potato pancake out of her pan and it landing on the counter.  But seeing these bloopers in a regular show are, unfortunately, few and far between.  Too bad.  In some cases I think it would inject some personality and humor to a very scripted performance.


And, say you do try to be the perfect home cook… what are you losing in the process?  Time with your kids or significant other?  Time to read a good book or get outside enjoy the day?  Time doing anything else you enjoy in life?  And if things do not go as planned (as it rarely does)… do you lose your temper?  Your sanity?  Does it ruin your day?  Is perfection really that desirable?


As for my friend, after some time, she finally calmed down, and we did come up with a solution.  We went to the store and bought those pre-made decorative cake icing tubes in a bunch of different colors.  We then, using the cake as our canvas, made our own version of a Jackson Pollock-style masterpiece.  No, it’s not something that Martha would do.  But, we embraced this creative chaos in a weird and wonderful way, and by the end of it we were actually having a lot of fun!  She later told me that her family loved the look of the cake and thought that it was truly an original. 


Oh, by the way, it actually tasted good too!


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