Cooking on electric or gas? I have always preferred cooking on fire (gas, that is), even though it meant remaining with a fossil fuel when I had the choice of going electric. Cooking on gas is of course very different from cooking on an actual wood fire, the way famed chef Francis Mallman has perfected it. Yet, it's one step closer to actual fire cooking than cooking on an electric stove, which seems more abstract because the fire element is gone. When I cook I actually look at the size of the flame when turning up or down. Cooking on gas gives me the feeling that I have a more direct relationship with my heat source, more control. I see the fire, and I see if the flame is big or small, and can gauge my heat source in a more direct, perhaps more primitive way.
We humans have a special relationship with fire. Fire is something primal. Staring into a fire is mesmerizing, whether in a fireplace, into a candle or outdoors. Fire, just like other nature elements, can be destructive and constructive. Maybe there is a bit of tension in managing a fire so it's safe, so it can warm us, so we can cook our food with it, so we feel in charge of it.
This past weekend we sat outside by a fire after dark. A friend was watching my husband, who has mastered the art of making a fire, tending to it, adding to it, managing it, reviving it, and finally letting it die down peacefully, and was in awe of the quiet, yet steady and ongoing process to keep it going gently. Natalie Wolchover writes that indigenous people, in contrast to us Westerners, only retain their fire fascination until they have managed fire. We Westerners don't necessarily have a very close relationship with fire, especially not with open fire, as our friend realized. I don't know either how to properly start a barbecue, how to make a fireplace fire, how to start and manage an outdoor fire. Is that why I feel a closer relationship to cooking on gas? Is that Western fire fascination due to my inability to manage an actual outdoor fire? What do you prefer, gas or electric? And why?