And despite the intense focus live-fire cooking commands, mastering it is both meditative and relaxing.
“Working with an open flame,” says chef Elise Kornack, formerly of the celebrated (now shuttered) Brooklyn restaurant Take Root, “requires your attention every single second. You cannot control it—only manage it. The whole process is immensely intense, yet also incredibly calming.”
Lecki agrees, “It’s a very focused type of cooking, because you have to actually tend to your feeding source. It’s not like you turn on a gas grill or burner, and just put your pan down. There are a lot of nuances that go with it: the actual fire itself, the way you can build flavor, smoke, different types of wood, adding herbs or pine branches to your fire. For me, [the nuances] make open-fire cooking so much more fun to do, so much more interesting. It’s definitely harder, hotter, and slower, but, ultimately, I find it to be rewarding. Every day the wood is a little different, the conditions are a little different, and you’re constantly problem-solving. No dish comes out exactly the same.”
Kornack also observes “I find the use of fire for cooking to be both inherently primal and distinctly human, and more appropriately, maternal. Women (mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers alike) have notoriously been the stewards of the hearth and the keepers of the flame. The fire was/is center of the home, where both substance and warmth emanate. However, since the popularization of backyard grilling, and more recently the surge towards men ‘finding themselves back in the home kitchen’, fire has instead been marketed as a way of reinforcing masculinity.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some women not only cook over fire regularly, but also build their own set-up for cooking outdoors.