The current issue of Food & Wine has a startlingly good essay on the importance of bringing human touch back into the kitchen. This isn’t a metaphor for a less sterile, computer-dependent cooking environment; it’s a literal call for cooks to put their hands on the food more often.

The writer is Daniel Patterson, the chef and co-owner of Coi in San Francisco. Patterson suggests that not only does touching tell us a lot about an ingredient’s freshness and overall condition, but it can also tell us—by experience—how it will taste. And that kind of advantage, obtained without prodding or slicing with metal tools, can make a real difference to the long-term quality of one’s cooking.

Touching meat in a pan is a noninvasive and surprisingly good way to judge doneness, he writes:

If you don’t happen to live with a chef, a good rule of thumb is to feel your earlobe—that’s rare. The tip of your nose resembles medium, and your chin is well-done.

A little macabre, perhaps, but useful. Patterson also wisely leads the piece by addressing concerns about cleanliness and hygiene. If you’re going to sell people on manhandling their dinner so that it tastes better, you’re also going to have to sell them on why it’s safe to do so.

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