When I look back over my past 50 years of cooking and entertaining, some of the moments that stand out most spectacularly were the disasters. One of the most memorable was when I invited friends over for dinner and served coffee in my brand new glass coffee mugs. I lined up the mugs and carefully poured in the hot coffee. Then, to our horror, a few seconds later we heard “Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping!” as all five mugs cracked from the heat of the coffee and spilled their contents all over my dining room table. Even though these were tempered glass mugs designed to hold hot coffee, I didn’t realize that you’re supposed to avoid pouring hot coffee directly into them; you have to pour it over a spoon. Now they tell me.
Another time, I planned a turkey dinner with one of my friends. It was Thanksgiving, and the turkey was the main feature of the dinner. It was not until the first basting, approximately 2 hours into cooking the turkey, that I realized I had not turned on the roaster oven. We ended up eating everything else first and the turkey last—not a good time, although thankfully, my friend was really nice about it.
Then there was the time I invited a family over for a meal and decided to use my brand new Cuisinart food processor. This was the very first model in the line. I hadn’t used it much but was anxious to try it on the mashed potatoes, which were so much work the usual way—using a masher, then transferring them to the mixer and whipping them until they were light, fluffy, and lump-free, while also adding hot milk, butter, and seasonings at the appropriate times. So instead of doing all that, I just put the cooked potatoes right into the Cuisinart and turned it on. In place of the usual fluffy mashed potatoes, all whipped and light, I ended up with a grayish, sticky mess that bore absolutely no resemblance to mashed potatoes whatsoever. We tried to eat it, but it was deplorable. Too bad I threw it all out; I could have had it patented as glue.
I was at my Greek grandmother’s house one time when I was 15, and I wanted to make her a cake. I always find it a little disconcerting to try to cook in someone else’s kitchen, because you don’t know where anything is. I don’t think I actually had my recipe with me, either. While I improvise with other dishes all the time, baked goods have to have the right ingredients in the right proportions to come out right; a small deviation can cause a big problem so a recipe is a must. Anyway, I left out the leavening, and the cake did not rise. It looked pretty much like an extra-thick pancake. This was devastating for me, because my grandmother and I were very close and I wanted to make her a special cake. I also wanted to show off a little bit. She could see that I was terribly crestfallen over the cake, and she made a magnificently kind gesture. She ate a slice of the cake and then told me this in her broken English: “This is best cake I never eat in my life!” I will always love that woman.
None of these mishaps would have occurred if I’d been preparing a raw meal. The standard disasters—undercooking, overcooking, and burning food—simply do not occur when you’re not cooking. This is not to say that you can’t ruin a raw dish; you can. It’s still possible to omit an ingredient, put in too much or too little of something, or make some other mistake in preparation. However, none of these disasters will destroy your new glass coffee mugs, set off your fire alarm, or turn your dinner into a charcoal briquette. Most omitted ingredients simply leave the flavor less robust; they don’t change the whole structure of the food. Raw food preparation is just more forgiving than cooked food preparation is. If you accidentally add a wrong ingredient to a salad dressing, you can wash off the lettuce leaves and start over again, no damage done. Raw cake does not even have to rise.
When you look at it this way, raw food is a lot less stressful to prepare and far less likely to embarrass you when you’re serving dinner to guests. Of course, that means you’ll have to make funny memories that don’t center around food disasters, but actually that’s a good thing.