The Joys Of Modern Life: 43. kitchenware

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The Independent Culture
IT MUST be a perversion. My only love springs from my only hate. While loathing all culinary activity to the point of nausea, I am mesmerised into a state of dumb joy by its implements.

Cooking has now transcended its pastry and jelly-mould image. Massive hardbacks with matt jackets and 50 different types of olive oil are written by trendies, while domestic drudgery has been replaced by restaurant virtuosity until we've all got the River Cafe Cook Book Two.

The tools of the trade have reached their apogee. Cookery is serious, and the best cooking implements reflect this in a delectable display of heft and grain and sheer cast-iron tonnage; things you'd never usually spend a moment considering suddenly and mysteriously begin to matter. Indeed, kitchenware shops provide a more sensuous experience than any establishment promoting sex, silk underwear or floral baths.

I don't give a damn about baking fish en papillote. I do not find tearing basil relaxing. Despite all counter-claims, cooking is not art. But something about the graded array of Le Creuset pans simply does it for me. The sight of a mezzaluna left carelessly on a chill marble slab fuses dreams of domesticity with dreams of glamour, and leaves me unreasonably touched.

Only the heavy-duty, no-jokes kitchenware delivers such atavistic thrills. We can all buy Nineties brightly coloured plastic graters by Italian designers from shops featuring grass-effect shower curtains and goldfish-design inflatable cushions. But who would choose a Dalmatian-spotted polythene chopping-board when they could have a half-ton chunk of moist, grainy wood?

Serious kitchenware is all black, brown and silver; it is muted and serious and flatteringly grown-up. You can disappear into a haven of cast-iron griddles and pretend you're 50 and own an Aga, and then spend pounds 2.95 on an olive-wood spatula whose varnished grain is almost edible.

Gorgeous kitchenware is all about thundering tradition come into its own. It's about wedges of tree and hunks of cast iron, about palest bevelled wood and stiff yellow bristles, about screw heads set flush against buffed wooden handles. Such objects are too beautiful to stain with pasta sauce, and you can hardly lift the superior pans, so there seems little point in trying to cook with them. I walk around in an ecstasy buying presents of exquisite salt spoons, cleavers, flimsy Japanese fish-slices with cord loops. I know all about Zyliss garlic crushers. I like their hinges. I just wouldn't dream of using them.

Give me two hours in a serious cookware shop and I've virtually got the munchies; I've planned a year's worth of birthday presents, and emerged blinking into the sunlight, feeling fantastically mature and lugging half a stone of cast iron.

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