First, a confession: I'm a recipe junkie, a cookbook addict so hooked that, for years, I was unwilling to fry an omelet without printed instructions, preferably from either of the legendary talents Alice Waters and Thomas Keller. More recently, though, and largely because of a conversation with Keller himself, I've been trying to become more of an intuitive cook, the kind of kitchen wizard who can put together a magical meal entirely by instinct. And I've got a plan for how to do it.
The Alice Waters obsession came first, purely because of a funny biographical link: Waters had been my preschool teacher at the Berkeley Montessori School back in 1970, right before she opened Chez Panisse and became the most influential cook in America. A kid's parents don't let him forget that kind of thing, and as a result, I've been telling people about the Waters connection all my life. So when my first daughter was born in 2002, monopolizing my wife's attention and forcing me to cook our nightly repast, it felt only natural to study the works of my old teacher.
It helps to understand that, in the years prior, I was about 75 percent burrito by body mass, with the remainder consisting almost entirely of Trader Joe's. I couldn't even identify most of the stuff at a farmers' market. So, over a two-year period, I taught myself to cook by working my way through all 290 recipes in Chez Panisse Vegetables (I swear, this was way before Julie & Julia).