This morning I interviewed Sean Brock, recent winner of a James Beard Award and chef at McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. Brock is one of the most inventive people in the food industry, blending high-tech with old-school ingredients (for instance, he makes cotton candy out of country ham). But when I asked him where he had eaten his “last most satisfying meal,” he answered that it had been a very simple but delicious fish head stew at a local low-country restaurant, Gullah Cuisine.

“I love finding little places like that—it’s like, you’re cooking the same soup every day from the time you’re 5 to the time you’re 50. You keep thinking you’re going to get sick of it and lose the love.” But rather than get bored with it, mused Brock, “you keep tasting it and keep tasting it and just making it better and better.”

This anecdote came up again later, when I was discussing with a coworker the “10,000 hour rule” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. His theory is that mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. This was what Brock was getting at with the fish head stew, too. It made me wonder what, if anything, I have practiced making in the kitchen that even spills into the double digits, hour-wise. The only thing I could think of is the buttermilk pancakes recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I know, how lame that it’s even someone else’s recipe and not my own thing. Nonetheless, I have had to practice little things like getting the stove just the right temperature so as not to burn the bottom before the inside is cooked (about the 3.8 setting on my electric stove), not mixing the batter too much so that the pancakes are rubbery but enough so that it’s combined, putting the right amount of sugar in (the recipe says 1-3 tablespoons, I prefer less than 1). I make it nearly every Sunday. There is a perfect version in my head I know one day I will get to. I’d say I’m at 30 hours so far.

What’s your 10,000-hour dish? And how many hours have you clocked to date?

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