I started listing the things I craved. I craved the kind of Indian food that I'd only ever eaten in the homes of friends. I craved Korean food. I craved...olives. Olive bread, olive pizza, olive anything. I craved more things than I have room to mention. Once I'd listed my cravings, I felt compelled to satisfy them, and it seemed easiest to do that by cooking.
Remember the pantry I was bragging about? I recall the stark spectacle that my kitchen presented when I first decided I wanted to cook: a few cans of tuna, a brick of frozen spinach, a tub of yogurt, and a whole lot of popcorn. These are all things I still keep on hand, but now each presents so many possibilities—even the frozen spinach (though perhaps not the popcorn). Back then I didn't even know what half the things I needed would look like. And I really did get a crick in my neck from bending over the cookbook as if reading instructions for estimating my taxes. But in the end the hurdle was jumped. I cooked my first dinner from a cookbook (a three-dish Indian feast), although we didn't sit down to eat till ten.
I hadn't needed cooking lessons or exceptional talent, only the drive that a real craving gives you. The first time I set out to make Paula Wolfert's chicken smothered in cracked green olives, I went to the legendary Murray's Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village for the olives. I'd been there many times before, always a timid interloper, on the margins, watching someone else shop. Murray's was that thrilling foreign country, and now I belonged.
Susan Choi is the author of the novel The Foreign Student (HarperPerennial).
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