This is something we have discussed, thought about and practiced for years. This question brought us back to a familiar discussion and with the help of John here are some thoughts:
“To Taste” is something we read often in recipes… What exactly does this mean? What sort of logic or underlying principles does the direction “salt and pepper to taste” constitute? What is challenging for the novice cook or anyone involved with creating an aesthetic experience for themselves or others is the ability to hold multiple concepts, tastes, flavors or senses in the head at the same time without negating or overpowering any of the contributing forces. For example take the first time one makes lemonade–usually the first experience with cooking we have here in the United States. We start with Lemons, Water and Sugar and we slowly start to build… squeezing fresh lemons… adding sugar… stretching with water or ice… this process is enabled by the act of tasting… I taste-it seems tart-I add sugar… I taste again-it seems sweet-I add lemon… I taste again-it seems too strong-I add water… what is going on is tiny adjustments where all the ingredients form a tension without canceling each other out… I want to taste lemon AND I want to taste sugar AND I want to taste water (yes water is important flavor/texture to lemonade) AND I want to taste the mixture we call ‘Lemonade’… This is the logic of the ‘AND’ as well as the logic of taste where every flavor you add to a dish stands on its own and at the same time contributes to the tension of the whole without canceling the other ingredients out in the counter-actualization of a mixture… The process of “to taste” is really the logic of paradox (an apparent contradiction that implies that things are distinct while not being separate). “To Taste” becomes more difficult when we add more that three ingredients–for example while making a curry you want to feel free to add something like cardamom but you don’t want this flavor to dominate yet you want it to stand on its own in a tension–taste distinct while not being separate, a non-dual truth…. Another way to think about this way of cooking is through music and contrapuntal composition. Take Bach’s Goldberg Variations, through the entire piece rarely is more than one note played at the same time. The harmonies, resonances, discords and resolutions are the tensions created in-between the striking of notes at different times–apparently contradicting single distinct notes not separate and creating a whole. In other words each ingredient (note) can stand on its own as is, however contributing to a larger whole this single ingredient (note) enters into a series and an artichoke’s artichokeyness becomes apparent by contributing counter discords and resonances in its mixtures with other ingredients (notes)…. “To Taste” amounts to “Cooking By Ear” the working title of a book I am working on with John.