What is Cooking?

A big question that was asked to me and my fellow CIA culinary students was to define "cooking." What exactly is cooking? Oxford dictionary defines the term "cooking" as: (noun) The practice or skill of preparing food by combining, mixing, and heating ingredients (

Sure, the definition makes sense and I can guarantee that most people and chefs can agree to that definition provided. However, does that definition fully define "cooking?" The key phrases in that definition is "combining, mixing, AND heating," so where does foods that requires no heat fall into place? Are salads not categorized as cooking? How about smoothies, parfaits, and sandwiches? Does that include cured meats? Pickled products? Or sun-dried fruits and vegetables?

This simple term of "cooking" had me thinking for a while, throughout my time at the CIA, figuring out what this term and concept meant to me. How would I define this term, as it is a huge part of who I am. So what is my definition of cooking and how does it differ from the definition provided by the oxford dictionary?

Throughout my childhood and leading up until now, food has been a huge passion and love in my life. I've been fortunate enough to explore the cultural diverse culinary world of NYC. My passion, eventually, lead me to study at the Culinary Institute of America, where I was privileged to be educated in the many techniques, styles, and methods of cooking. I was introduced to many new ingredients which I was able to add to my "cooking arsenal." And I was shown how people of different cultures were cooking. All of these allowed me to creating my own style of cooking and hopefully find my own definition of "cooking."

How would I define "cooking?" I would define it as the ability and knowledge of combing, mixing, and "preparing" ingredients while understanding flavor, texture, and purpose of each ingredient.

Lets start with flavor, as it is one of the largest contributors for diners to judge that dish. It is important for any dish to be flavorful, one of the greatest sins in the culinary world is preparing ingredients without bringing out each of the ingredients flavor potential. Watch any cooking TV show in which judges would critique the food, many contestants fall short by not being able to highlight each individual flavor profile or have an ingredient overpower another ingredient. The ability of create a flavor-packed dish which exposes each and every ingredient in that dish is what cooking is about.


Tom Wu